In Concert

I was very happy to see Brown Paper Box Company put together this once hugely successful romantic comedy by Neil Simon, which played on Broadway for four years with music and book by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. Produced, directed and choreographed by Daniel Spagnuolo, this semi-autographical piece about the true-life romance of Hamlisch (hot off “A Chorus Line") and Sager, who was busy writing and performing hits of her own for Barry Manilow and Melissa Manchester. 

Although “They’re Playing Our Song” is basically a two-character show, the introduction of a chorus of players playing behind each of the leads referred to as " the voices in his head" or " the girls" representing, the "ID, the EGO and Passion" is a delightful and effective tool to understanding how quickly each character’s mood is changing and reacting to every word from the other. When the characters insult each other the chorus reacts instantly and likewise when they begin to loosen up. As the two stop competing with each other’s insecurities and speak honestly about their growing love, the chorus reflects on their faces and through dance how happy each character really is on the inside. 

If only we each had such clear representations from our subconscious minds to guide us moment by moment though lovers and arguments in real life, more couples might find the happiness these two finally find by the end of the play. 

Vernon Gersch (Dan Gold) and Sonia Walsk (Carmen Risi) meet for the first time in his luxury NY apartment where he is searching for new songwriters to collaborate with and has begun working on one of Sonia's songs. Although the balance of power is off at the beginning, Sonia asserts herself by letting him know she has been writing music since she was eleven and has other lucrative offers coming in musically as well as a persistently needy, but still attractive, ex-boyfriend waiting in the wings. 

Dan Gold has an excellent singing voice for this piece but has a little trouble always delivering the "funny", as his character veers from outright patron-ism towards Walsk to put her in her place to a kind of forced sneering anger as her bubbly personality seems to outshine his own success. Still, Gold does have his moments. Risi, whose overall trained voice is pleasant puts her own spin on some of the notes originally scored for Lucie Arnaz. Risi's opening night performance early on found herself speaking way too fast for the audience to understand everything she is saying at times, which made many of the good one liners fall flat. However, once finding her comfort zone in the role as perhaps opening night nerves had quelled, Risi eventually redeemed herself, injecting it and Vernon Gersch with her infectious, if somewhat relentless bubbly, enthusiasm for him and their possibilities for living together successfully in a mutually respectful yet non-competitive marriage. Gersch finally admits that he is "terrified, literally terrified by the feelings she causes in him both loving and hateful at the same time and we as an audience understand his neurotic sense of loss of control around her perfectly. 

Gold and Risi might seem mismatched at first, but by the play’s second act their intense pairing seems justified.

Every inch of this intimate theater space was used to the max including dance numbers by all six members of the Greek chorus behind the two leads.

I liked the kitschy sets and costumes but felt music was thin, which sort of cheapens the real amount of musical talent packed onto the stage in every performer. 

I do recommend this very funny, psychologically instructive comedy for a couple's date night. 

I think every man and every woman will see parts of themselves they want to change in the struggle for power and finally supportive equilibrium of these two highly-neurotic yet supremely artistically gifted lovers that Hamlisch and Sayer so lovingly documented in this  1979 award winning musical. 

“They’re Playing Our Song” is being performed at Rivendell Theatre through August 20th. For more show information visit www.brownpaperbox.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

"A place where nobody dared to go

The love that we came to know

They call it Xanadu

 

And now, open your eyes and see

What we have made is real

We are in Xanadu

 

A million lights are dancing

And there you are, a shooting star

An everlasting world and you're here with me

Eternally"

 

I want to go to there - and this wonderful cast and crew at American Theater Company took me all the way!

 

I'm not like the other critics who like to tear down the original movie starring Olivia Newton John, Gene Kelly and some poor actor who resembled Andy Gibb whose name I can't remember because I never saw him again! Oh yeah, Michael Beck. No, I’m in the minority that LOVED Xanadu when it came out.  

 

To a theater geek like myself who also danced with a dance troupe (in leg warmers) and studied painting and drawing, this is a fantasy love story consisting of an artistic Queen of the Arts, the Demi God, “Kira”, who fulfills her own need to create art while helping the mortal she has fallen in love with, Sonny Malone. Timing is everything as she successfully pulls Sonny out of a suicidal depression just after her arrival to help him achieve his dreams, which was the PERFECT romantic expression of what I dreamed my life would be (minus the roller skates).

 

I saw Xanadu a few years back at The Broadway Playhouse and this production succeeds in every way that one did not. 

 

First of all, the staging thanks to director Lili Anne Brown and scenic design by Arnel Sanciano, place the audience in the round of what appears to be the actual roller rink/empty building where much of the film took place in. The set is complete with a disco ball overhead flooding the room with the lights and sounds of the 80's in a fun and involving way.

 

Then there are the voices - the two leads Kira/Cleo played by Landree Fleming and Sonny Malone played by Jim DeSelm are absolutely dead on GREAT singers. It is refreshing to see the role of Kira played by an actress who has the singing chops to pull off Olivia Newton John's star quality voice and is able to capture the romance of the character that should still be present amidst poking fun of her. 

 

Landree Fleming not only hits the highest high notes, she infuses them with the same "magical” quality that Olivia Newton John delivered and she did it without the aid of a sound booth and full orchestra. Landree is not only super funny in the role, she is a great physical comedienne and got laughs out of every sad little shrug of her shoulders and comically delivered line. This is partially in thanks to her hilarious over-emphasized Aussie accent to make the joke without necessarily making her character into a joke. 

 

Another thing that I LOVED about this production, which really caught the hugely optimistic 1980's message with amazing love songs by ELO like "Strange Magic", "I’m Alive", and John Farrer’s "Magic", is that even though they captured the campiness by casting several of Kira's sister Muses as men, Jim De Selm chose to play the role of Sonny as straight man all the way through, creating a believable romance unlike other productions of Xanadu I’ve seen. When I saw the touring production years ago with the Sonny character played as a flamboyantly gay man who could never realistically fall in love with Kira no matter how beautiful she was, it not only took the flash and jazz out of the great campy gay humor, it also took all of the wonderful jokes and truths about hetero love and flattened them out into a joyless, hopeless mess.

 

Every single muse in this production has their own flair and style, and fantastic singing skills. For example, when Muse Melponene’s (Karla L Beard) very first notes came out of her mouth - I knew we were going to be in for a treat of great singing all around. Hanah Rose Nardone as Muse of Music Euterpe, James Negrud as Muse Terpicore and Daniel Spagnuolo as Thalia are three obviously classically trained, highly skilled dancers who ALSO delivered delicious comedy throughout whether executing a perfect pirouette or any other form of modern dance thrown in to celebrate the 80's.

 

Aaron Holland is also a bright spot in this production. Holland is simply hysterical in his dual roles as white afro-wearing Zeus and as building owner/investor Danny Maguire – and he too, like the rest of this talented cast, delivers vocally. 

 

Samantha C. Jones does a fantastic job with the perfectly period funny, yet still SEXY, campy stylish costuming, designed for many, many quick changes as some of the actors play multiple roles from beginning to end.

 

I could go on and on about the entire cast and the great six-piece live band that is also implemented into the show in a wonderful way.

 

For a highly enjoyable way to spend an evening with good music and heavy bouts of laughter, American Theater Company’s Xanadu would be tough to beat. In the lobby after the show I heard another woman discussing the show excitedly saying, "Girls Night out!!! We are going to all come and see this together!!" 

 

Her comments personify the exact joy and thoughts I was having as I left the theater. This truly musically gifted production is so much fun, so true to the romance and high artistic ideals we all had entering the 1980's, ideals and hopes for a rainbow future of the Arts that were completely squashed throughout the decade. 

 

This uplifting and exuberantly romantic production of Xanadu makes you glad you were alive to experience a simpler time and still come out swinging in support for ALL of the Arts including painting, singing, dancing and humor- a full 36 years later!

 

Perfectly blended with its poking fun at the 80’s, use of catchy music and romantic overtones, I highly recommend Xanadu. In fact, catch it more than once if you can. But do yourself a favor and watch the movie first so that you can truly appreciate its parodic humor.

 

Xanadu is currently being performed at American Theater Company through July. Tickets start at a very reasonable price of $30. For more show information, visit http://www.atcweb.org/.  

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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