Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see John's recent review of Fiddler on the Roof
Based on the real-life relationship between Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, They're Playing Our Song is the story of successful, wisecracking composer Vernon Gersch, firmly ensconced in his upscale Manhattan apartment, and quirky lyricist Sonia Walsk, clinging to her Bohemian lifestyle and nursing her ex-boyfriend back to emotional health.
When Vernon (James Clow) and Sonia (Andrea McArdle) come together to collaborate on a musical project, they find that their differences may not make them ideal partners. Despite these differences, there is an undeniable attraction between them, both physically and artistically, and they bond through their mutual neurotic natures and compatible senses of humor. Their path to love is cluttered by hurdles they must overcome before they arrive at their happy ending, but along the way, they (literally) make beautiful music together.
The script by Neil Simon reflects the agility with which he captures the human condition and the ways in which we relate and speak to one another. His work stands the test of time, and his book scenes in this musical are strong enough to hold up even without the music. The Wick Theatre production is blessed to have Broadway veteran Andrea McArdle (of Annie fame) and James Clow (Irving Berlin's White Christmas) masterfully handle the book scenes, mining them for their humor and vulnerability. McArdle subtly avoids the easy choice of making Sonia the flaky stereotype. Clow deftly portrays a man of quick, self-effacing observational humor, rather than relying on the weaker comedic appeal of the crusty, complaining neurotic. While the two mesh together well, it is difficult to judge their romantic chemistry as that is not really how the show is written.
McArdle retains a mature version of the strong singing voice for which she always been known. The keys in which the songs are written all sit within the meat of her voice and are effortlessly sung by this experienced songstress. Clow's lovely, warm singing voice is a welcome surprise in a role in which character actors are allowed character voices. Surely, Sager and Hamlisch would smile to hear their songs sung so well.
The seven-piece band, led by music director Michael Ursua, play Hamlisch's music beautifully, but the music, and the marriage of the music to the script, do not hold up as well as the script. The 1970s feel of the music and the style of lyric writing inherently confine this piece to a time period that doesn't translate universally, leaving it feeling trite and cumbersome at times.
Vernon and Sonia each have a three-person Greek chorus acting as their inner voices. The chorus is present intermittently throughout the show during some of the musical numbers, providing harmony and movement, but do not further or enhance the plot in any way. The use of the chorus entering from nowhere and for no real reason, while a tad humorous, is mostly just a novelty that wears off after their first exit, regardless of the level of talent and animation displayed in this production.
From the costumes to the set, the Wick Theatre provides great talent and production values. They have even made some updates to their already beautifully appointed facility, but the dated nature of this particular show may not be for everyone, even with the original Annie playing the female lead.
They're Playing Our Song will be appearing at the Wick Theatre through November 6, 2016. The Wick Theatre & Costume Museum is located at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, Florida. For more information, you may contact them by phone at 561-955-2333, 561-955-2333 or visit online at www.thewick.org.
*Designates member of Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.