BWW Review: CVRep's ROMANCE ROMANCE is a Sweet, Feel-Good Winner
Coachella Valley Repertory (CVRep) has a winner in ROMANCE ROMANCE, two one-act musicals by Keith Herrmann (music) and Barry Harman (book and lyrics). The Broadway version of the show got nominated for five Tony awards in 1988, among them best musical, best book and lyrics, and best score when it had the misfortune of competing with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and INTO THE WOODS, as well as a revival of ANYTHING GOES - probably the reason that many theatregoers are unfamiliar with this gem.
Unlike its 1988 Tony competitors, ROMANCE ROMANCE, which has only four performers, is perfect for a small venue; director Ron Celona calls the two acts "chamber musicals." The first act, "The Little Comedy" takes place in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century. As those familiar with A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC know, the Viennese looked for love very differently than say, Londoners or Bostonians; ROMANCE, ROMANCE actually admits that both men and women in that era were interested in sex. The tongue-in-cheek comedic storyline concerns two bored, upper-class individuals who want to find someone interested in them, instead of their money. Each conjures up a fake working class life, and each falls in love with the other's assumed persona. But, each concludes that an upper-class individual cannot make a member of the bourgeosie happy, and vice versa. Can they stay together when they find out the truth about each other's bank accounts?
The second act is completely different. "Summer Share" is a musical dramedy (albeit with a happy ending - no tears in ROMANCE, ROMANCE) about two happily married, present-day couples. One of the husbands, Sam (Christopher Carothers), has been best friends since college with Monica (Conchita Belisle Newman), the wife of the other husband. The friends rent a summer cottage together at the beach, but soon discord simmers below the surface - Sam's wife, Barb (Robyn Cohen), and Monica's husband, Lenny (Eric B. Anthony) wonder whether Sam and Monica will really remain platonic friends, and Sam and Monica wonder whether to risk their friendship and their two marriages by acting on their growing attraction.
The superb cast makes the most of the material; it is a pleasure watching these four Equity performers own the stage, even slipping seamlessly from turn-of-the-century pronunciation and cadence into modern language. I very much enjoyed the two men's mellifluous vocal performances. My only complaint is that Ms. Newman and Ms. Cohen, while both accomplished sopranos, sounded shrill in some of the numbers - this, of course, could be a matter of my own preference for mezzo voices, rather than any failing on their part.
This production contains a great deal of ballroom-style dancing, choreographed by Mr. Celona, with most of it done by Mr. Anthony and Ms. Cohen. They are both top-notch dancers, but Mr. Anthony, an experienced Broadway performer, is magical; his return to the west coast is New York's loss and California's gain.
I generally preferred Act I to Act II, because it is more humorous and because I loved the extraodinary late 19th century costumes, brilliantly designed by Julie Onken, as well as Lynda Shaeps' superb hair designs. (Disclosure: Ms. Shaeps will be my stage makeup instructor at the College of the Desert this semester). The musical number that gave me the most laughs, however, occurs in Act II, "My Love for You," in which Barb and Lenny imagine what it will be like to be old and married to the same spouses.
As usual, Jimmy Cuomo's set designs (assisted by Doug Morris) add a great deal of atmosphere. Musicals will continue to be especially difficult at CVRep until it moves into its new venue because the stage is so small; Mr. Cuomo must provide space for a four-piece combo on stage right, while leaving enough room both for a pathway for dancing and the set itself. Yet, Mr. Cuomo manages to provide two breathtaking sets, with modular sections. In Act I, removable mounted buildings depict the Vienna skyline visible from the window. In Act II, the window remains, but nothing except the sky is visible from the audience's perspective; apparently the window faces out towards the ocean. Period correct furniture sits on movable platforms that turn around to reveal beautiful, modern pieces for Act II. The set in Act II is just as reminiscent of an upscale beach house as the Act I set evokes an upscale, urban, European environment at the turn of the 20th century.
The musical director, Jaci Davis, who also plays piano, deserves kudos, as does the rest of the combo: Daniel Gutierrez (keyboard); Dave Hitchings (percussion); and Bill Saitta (bass). Moira Wilkie Whitaker's lighting designs and Randy Hansen's sound add a great deal to the atmosphere - especially a rainstorm in Act I.
The rest of the artistic staff and crew consist of stage managers Louise Ross and Moira Wilkie Whitaker; Doug Morris (associate designer, prop master, running crew); Lynda Shaeps (makeup design); Joshua Adams (sound tech and set construction); and dressers Chandler Smith and Tania Vasquez. The rest of the set constructors and crew are Frank Cuomo, Jeremy Ketcham, Kathy Lay, Greg Pard, and Guy Wonder.
ROMANCE ROMANCE will run through February 11, 2018. CVRep's 2017-18 runs are now four weeks long instead of three, and include some Tuesday evening performances and an additional Saturday matinee. Evening shows start at 7:30 pm, and matinees (Sat. & Sun.) start at 2:00 pm. Ticket prices are $48 for previews, $63 for opening night, and $53 for all other performances.
CVRep is located in The Atrium, at 69-930 Highway 111, Suite 116, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets may be purchased by telephone at 760-296-2966; online at www.cvrep.org/tickets/; or in person at the box office. Box office hours are Mon-Fri 10:30-2:30 and two hours prior to each performance.
ROMANCE ROMANCE is part of CVRep's 2017-18 theme of Romance: Real or Imagined. The other two plays in the series are:
Edward Albee's THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA (March 7-April 1, 2018)
Martin-a hugely successful architect who has just turned fifty-leads an ostensibly ideal life with his loving wife and gay teenage son. But when he confides to his best friend that he is also in love with a goat (named Sylvia), he sets in motion events that will destroy his family and leave his life in tatters.
2 ACROSS (April 25-May 20, 2018)
Two strangers board a San Francisco BART train at 4:30 a.m. They're alone in the car, each is married, both are doing the New York Times crossword. She's an organized, sensible psychologist. He's a free-spirited, unemployed ad exec. She is a crossword pro, he always quits. When he tosses his puzzle away, she snaps, "Crosswords are a metaphor for life, those who finish, succeed, those who don't, fail." This starts an eighty-minute ride described by critics as "Hilarious," "Witty," "Romantic," "Poignant," and "Wonderfully entertaining."
CVRep, a 501(c)(3) organization, is the only theatre in the Coachella Valley that has Small Professional Theatre status with Actors' Equity. As well as presenting its main stage productions, CVRep operates a conservatory and a children's program. CVRep is currently raising funds through a $6-million capital campaign to purchase the IMAX theater in Cathedral City, at the corner of Route 111 and Cathedral Canyon Boulevard, and to construct a 200-seat, modern theatrical venue on the site.
To contribute to the capital campaign or for CVRep's annual operations, contact:
Barbara Wolser, Director of Development
(760) 296-2966 ext 103
PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Cox