In recent years, the movie musical has struggled for its complete resurrection as a genre, in efforts ranging from the Hollywood high-flown (“Into the Woods”) to the modest and quirky (Jeffrey St. Jules’s little-seen “Bang Bang Baby,” from 2014). And now, somewhere between the two, lies “Hello Again,” Tom Gustafson’s florid adaptation of Michael John LaChiusa’s 1993 Off Broadway show (itself based on Arthur Schnitzler’s “La Ronde”). What most distinguishes “Hello Again” from the others is its cast of New York theater powerhouses, including Martha Plimpton, Audra McDonald and Cheyenne Jackson.
“Hello Again” largely eschews dialogue as it leaps among historical eras and song sequences, depicting a series of fraught romantic encounters across decades. (Few film musicals have so teemed with non-graphic scenes of sexual acts.)
It begins with a woman (Ms. Plimpton) who enters a peep-show-like chamber, seeking counsel about love from a mysterious masked man before her. And then it’s off to a coupling between a prostitute and a soldier in 1901; a tryst between a rich man (T. R. Knight) and a younger one on the Titanic; a 1920s affair in a movie theater involving an adulteress (Rumer Willis); a Greenwich Village disco hookup in the 1970s; and so on. The best comes near the end, when Ms. McDonald, as a singer in 2002 reaching for a comeback in a cheesy music video, puts Auto-Tune to shame. A later segment takes place in 1989, in which Ms. Plimpton plays a Washington senator keeping her lover (Ms. McDonald) a secret. Their scenes together are worth the price of admission.
The movie benefits from Austin Schmidt’s neon-infused cinematography and Annie Simeone’s lush production design. But Mr. LaChiusa’s songs largely fail to resonate here. Dramatic traction suffers, probably as a result of the many, and diffuse, vignettes. And yet this is a commendably audacious effort by Mr. Gustafson (“Were the World Mine”). The movie musical needs more ambitious creators like him.
An earlier version of this review misidentified an actor in the segment concerning the Titanic. The rich man is not played by Cheyenne Jackson; he is played by T.R. Knight.