The Glorious Ones, which Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once on This Island, etc.) adapted from Francine Prose's 1974 novel, feels more like a work in progress than a fully fleshed-out, viable musical. It starts off didactic - with an introductory primer on the classic character types of commedia dell'arte - and never quite shakes the dusty whiff of the schoolroom. That opening gambit is at once off-putting and semi-insulting: If seventeenth-century street audiences could be trusted to get the gist, surely we don't need so heavy a helping hand.
Another insuperable problem is an unlikable lead character, the historical figure Flaminio Scala (Marc Kudisch), who - in this portrayal, at least - seems to think he singlehandedly invented not only the genre, but comedy itself, out of whole cloth. So proprietary is he about his supposed creation that, when one of the company members presumes to introduce a new wrinkle (a written script), he commits an act of supreme egotism - call it the ultimate sulk.
Kudisch carries out his singing duties in a stiff stance apparently intended to maximize vocal delivery, and so dull are the songs assigned him, he must often resort to the attention-grabbing device of forte/piano. Only three performers really seem to inhabit their roles: Natalie Venetia Belcon as Flaminio's ex-whore consort Columbina, Jeremy Webb as the raggedy protege who becomes Arlequino, and Julyana Soelistyo as a worshipful gamine who brings to mind Guilietta Masina in La Strada. Still, one can't help wishing them better material - especially Soelistyo, who does her best with a thoroughly unfunny double-entendre ditty about the many ways an innocent girl can be duped and done wrong. Theatre-goers lured into The Glorious Ones may well relate.