BWW Review: Broadway-Bound ROMAN HOLIDAY is A Sweet Confection

BWW Review: Broadway-Bound ROMAN HOLIDAY is A Sweet Confection

San Franciscan's were treated to the pre-Broadway run of ROMAN HOLIDAY last night at San Francisco's Golden Gate Theater.

Pre-show buzz was high for the musical adaptation of the 1953, black-and-white, cinematic classic. That Oscar-winning romp through Rome starred a relatively unknown Audrey Hepburn as a princess on the lam, with a royal case of on-the-job burnout, and Gregory Peck as the American reporter who knows a scoop when he sees one.

With a book adaptation by Kathy Speer, Terry Grossman and Paul Blake and carte blanche use of the Cole Porter catalogue, ROMAN HOLIDAY is a sweet confection of a show for sure, though in its present form, it lacks the meaty bite needed to make it a Broadway special - though not for lack of talent.

Sheltered princess, Anne, is charmingly played by Stephanie Styles (Newsies) who gamely takes on Hepburn's signature vocal intonation and compliments it with a sweet ingénue soprano in songs like "Why Shouldn't I" and "Use Your Imagination." Though she never sings, Georgia Engels shines as the princess's eccentrically endearing aunt, the Countess. Her perfectly timed comic asides, made to her aide while in search of the princess, provide much of the humor for the evening. Drew Gehling (Waitress; Jersey Boys) is perfectly cast as Joe Bradley, the frustrated reporter who sees in the princess's story, a ticket home to his beloved New York.

Both Styles and Gehling threaten to be upstaged by secondary characters,BWW Review: Broadway-Bound ROMAN HOLIDAY is A Sweet Confection photographer Irving and his girlfriend and singer, Francesca (Jarrod Spector and Sara Chase respectively). Spector, of Jersey Boys, Franki Valli fame and the versatile Chase are wonderful as the commitment-phobe Irving and the strong and independent-minded Francesca.

As for the book, some things that don't quite add up. Francesca figures out that "Smitty" is really the princess, but that tidbit of information never goes anywhere. Joe and Irving are buddies, but the comic antics of their characters in the film version are downplayed in the musical when they should be played for bigger laughs. The princess' aunt has had her own share of "Rumspringa" adventures and is therefore unbelievable in the end when she's scolding the princess for running away. The sub-plot isn't helped by the fact that self-confident Francesca is desperate to have Irving ask for her hand in marriage. That probably won't resonate for the demographic of the Great White Way as it once did. Fnally, while there are hints of attraction between Joe and the princess, the build-up is not the smoldering sensuality that leads to a satisfying, passionate payoff - at least not for 21st-century audiences.

What works well is Todd Rosenthal's Italian scenic design. Projections by Sven Ortel bring the wonders of Rome to life and give us a good sense of Joe and "Smitty's" tourist adventure. The iconic Vespa helps there, too. And of course, there's that Cole Porter score.

Ultimately, the ROMAN HOLIDAY trip down the G-rated, memory lane is a wonderful nod to Broadway's golden age for the 60-plus crowd, but how the dated, pre-feminist norms of duty before dreams, and marriage as the ultimate prize, play for anyone under age 50 remains to be seen.

For more information visit www.shnsf.com.

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