BWW Reviews: THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG Shines at Stages St. Louis
I've always been curious about They're Playing Our Song, but I'd never had the chance to see it before. You have to be intrigued by the fact that prolific playwright Neil Simon wrote the book, and also because Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, who are responsible, together and separately, for some of the biggest hits to come out of the 1970's and early 80's, wrote the score. So, I'm here to report that the current production by Stages St. Louis is a delightful romantic comedy filled with catchy tunes that would make a perfect "date night" for couples.
Neil Simon writes about the experience of creating the play in one of his autobiographies, and it's a funny little story, because he initially was asked to write a musical version of his play The Gingerbread Lady. But, as meetings with the songwriting pair began, Marvin and he found themselves routinely waiting for Carole to arrive. This sparked a number of conversations about their relationship, and that gave Simon the idea to write a two person musical centered around a fictionalized lyricist and composer.
Seth Rettberg, who plays composer Vernon Gersch, delivers a very good performance, and although it's a bit obvious that he's not actually playing the piano, that's easily forgivable. He more than makes up for that with a strong and pleasant voice that suits the material especially well. He also displays a nice sense of comic timing and wit. He's paired with Maria Couch, who plays the captivating Sonia Walsk. Couch is also no stranger to comedy and her work as Sonia is superb, and so are her vocal chops. Together they make for a fun study in contrasts, with Couch's wild streak butting up against the more restrained Rettberg. Each is joined accompanied by their own Greek chorus (representing the male and female egos) that brightens up the stage with their lush vocals and energetic dancing every time they make an appearance (Craig Blake, Nic Thompson, Aaron Umsted, Brittany Rose Hammond, Sarah Rolleston, Bronwyn Tarboton).
Director and choreographer Stephen Bourneuf does a splendid job injecting some sparks into this fun production. He's aided in his efforts by Lisa Campbell Albert's wonderful musical direction, James Wolk's eye catching scenic design that affords smooth transitions, and Lou Bird's costuming. The orchestral design of Stuart Elmore works well, and Matthew McCarthy contributes a strong lighting scheme.
Don't miss the Stages St. Louis presentation of They're Playing Our Song that's currently playing at the Robert G. Reim Auditorium through June 29, 2014. It's a wonderfully performed work that's well deserving of your time and attention.