BWW Reviews: LIVING ON LOVE is a Good Old Fashioned Laff Riot
Garson Kanin's 1985 comedy about the tempestuous relationship between a legendary conductor and his opera diva wife, Peccadillo, never quite made it to Broadway, so when playwright Joe DiPietro was approached with the idea of tweaking the script as a vehicle for opera star Renée Fleming's Broadway debut, his solution was to write a new play based on the old one.
How much of Kanin's original remains I couldn't say, but the new comedy, Living On Love, is a good old fashioned laff riot from start to finish. Don't expect anything fresh and original but DiPietro's script is loaded with solid gags and director Kathleen Marshall's terrific company nails them all.
Douglas Sills dominates the proceedings with impeccable comic timing, sublime hamminess and a thick Italian accent as the passionate and overly sensitive Maestro Vito De Angelis. It's 1957 and the aging conductor's once-brilliant career has been reduced to taking Leonard Bernstein's rejected gigs. He accepts a large advance to write a juicy memoir about his artistic triumphs and sexual conquests, but shows little interest in working with any of the ghost writers the publisher has been sending him.
The latest sap is Robert (angsty Jerry O'Connell), who has a hard time believing Vito's wild stories, like how he once slept with every chorus girl in a production of Madame Butterfly. ("A whole weekend in Cleveland, what else is Maestro to do?")
Vito insists that Robert must learn to drink and start having sex before he can become a good writer, but it turns out that the aspiring novelist only took the job for a chance to meet Vito's wife, the beloved diva Raquel De Angelis (Fleming) whose own career is showing signs of being on the decline. ("How much longer can I play the young virgin? Ten, twenty years?")
Playing a character who's more than willing to break into an aria just to see the thrilled looks on people's faces, and spoofing the world where she's made a career, the charming Fleming always seems just delighted to be here.
Looking for one last hurrah before becoming (gasp) a mezzo, Raquel nabs Robert to write her own memoir, confident she can finish first and pummel the public's interest in Vito's. Vito hires Iris (terrifically funny Anna Chlumsky), the nerdy editor the publisher sent to check on his progress, to be his new ghost writer ("spooky helper" as he calls it) after watching her downing glasses of booze to stay calm.
Iris and Robert bond over their mutual frustration in handling their temperamental colleagues and the fact that he dreams of writing the great American novel while she dreams of editing the great American novel, but Vito and Raquel both plot to use the young helpers to make their spouse jealous.
Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson round out the company as Vito and Raquel's trusty pair of manservants, Bruce and Eric, who speak in tandem, make grand productions out of preparing the set for the next scene and have a lovely moment where they reveal the sincere heart underneath all the goofy antics.
The Manhattan penthouse set, prominently displaying the couple's abundant collection of snow globes, is designed with farcical elegance by Derek McLane, Michael Krass provides chic 1950s costumes and Broadway veteran Trixie, who played Mr. Woofles in Bullets Over Broadway, returns to the stage as Puccini, Raquel's fluffy Pomeranian.