For his third feature length effort, director Tom Gustafson has made the ambitious decision to adapt acclaimed off-Broadway musical Hello Again for the big screen. Michael John LaChiusa’s rapturously received stage production details several different romantic encounters, across a 100 year period, all linked together via thematically recurring details in the lyrics and dialogue between the different partners. With variations on each character archetype linking through the ages, leading us to different periods of time on a whim, the story relies on the strength of the songs to guide the viewer along.
The story of the film is ten loosely connected romantic vignettes, spanning an entire century, with a range of different characters and period appropriate musical numbers in each New York set encounter. All characters are named after their professions or personalities, existing as romantic archetypes that get dissected through each musical number; from the soldier returning from war in the 40’s (Nolan Gerard Funk) and quickly falling in to a complicated relationship with a waitress (Jenna Ushkowitz), to the relationship between a married woman and an inexperienced younger man (Al Calderon and Rumer Willis) that’s affected by his impotence, the concept of romance is explored through several very different angles. As the film progresses, we are eventually introduced to a brief gay romance in the late seventies, between a writer and a younger man (played by Cheyenne Jackson and Tyler Blackburn, respectively).
Updated from the original 1994 stage production, we now have songs in various traditional styles representative of the different historical periods – from forties jazz, to seventies disco and early 2000’s auto-tuned dance pop, Gustafson has attempted to stay as authentic as possible when documenting the musical trends across each different era. He also manages to give each period setting a unique style; from mimicking the aesthetics of silent cinema during the twenties set sequences, to 16mm home videos in the seventies and overly stylised euro-pop videos in recent years, care and attention has been put in to the way the film looks and sounds.
LaChiusa’s original stage play was itself based on an earlier stage production – 1920’s play La Ronde, which drew controversy at the time due to its blunt depiction of sexual encounters shared between members of different social classes. Hello Again doesn’t have the same political commentary, but Gustafson does aim to show the pain that is caused in fleeting (and often secret) love affairs, and the changing face of society to a point of acceptance. The film may be a barrage of scenes linked only by themes, but the director’s exploration of relationships is central throughout the entire film.
Hello Again is a unique musical, both on stage and on screen. This film adaptation helps make the project realise its initial lofty ambitions, while staying true to the spirit of the original stage production.