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Soviet Rock Musical That Made History in Moscow Comes to America

JUNON AND AVOS - THE HOPE Rock musical with book and lyrics by Andrey Voznesensky, music by Alexis Ribnikov. Directed by Mark Zakharov. ITS heart is in the right place. Its beat is solid. In the end, however, the theatrical impact of ``Junon and Avos - The Hope'' never quite equals the earnestness of its message. From title to finale, the Russian rock musical at City Center revels in a synthesis that combines Russian liturgy and folk themes with latter-day rhythms. As to plot and subject matter, fact meets fiction on the City Center's raked, Plexiglas stage as a young 19th-century Russian count seeks to pioneer a trading relationship with faraway America.

According to the American sponsors, ``Junon and Avos'' has already made theatrical history in the Soviet Union. Presented in the pre-perestroika days of 1982 by the venturesome Lenin Komsomol Theatre, it blended musical themes and historical eras ``to tell a story steeped in Czarist Russian and American history....'' Following Moscow triumphs, it was mounted by Pierre Cardin (the local presenter) at his Paris theater, followed by productions in Amsterdam and in major Eastern European cities. The New York premi`ere is said to be the first performance of a Soviet rock musical in the United States.

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The title ``Junon'' is derived from a moon of the planet Jupiter used as a navigational aid; ``Avos'' means ``hope for good luck.'' Adapted by Andrey Voznesensky from his poem ``Avos'' (``What Will Be Will Be''), the ambitious musical tale concerns the efforts of young Count Rezanov (Nikolai Karachentsev) to launch a deal between his Russian-American company and the Spanish colonists of California. While in the colony, he wins the love of Conchita (Yelena Shanina), the governor's 16-year-old daughter, already engaged to Fernando Lopez (Alexander Abdulov), whom Rezanov defeats in a duel. Back in Russia to obtain permission to marry a Roman Catholic, Rezanov falls fatally ill and dies - a fact the forlorn Conchita learns only many years later.

``Junon and Avos'' unfolds in a series of tableaux, rituals, and set pieces, with lots of explosive percussionism and an occasional pistol shot. The strong-voiced principals deliver the songs by Alexis Ribnikov and Mr. Voznesensky into stationary or hand mikes. Some of the melodies make for easy listening and a few lyrics are printed in translations accompanying the Playbill, which contains a plot synopsis. In addition, Philip Casnoff fills the role of English-speaking Storyteller. Even so, the tumultuous events aren't always easy to follow.

Vladimir Vassiliev's calisthenic choreography moves the large ensemble up and down the sectional Plexiglas set, which is sometimes lighted from beneath for extra effect. The spectacular Oleg Sheintsiss scenery features a succession of stagey visuals, none more impressive than the looming image of one of Rezanov's sailing ships. Valentina Komolova designed the picturesque costumes. ``Junon and Avos'' climaxes with a prolonged choral ``Alleluia'' lamenting the fate of the doomed lovers and addressing a plea for peace to the people of the 20th century. The production is scheduled to run through Feb. 4.

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