Theatre

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

 

 

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