Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka, bookwriters Erik Jackson and Ben H. Winters, and lyricists Howard Greenfield and Philip Cody team up to present a show about a young woman trying to get over a breakup with the help of a friend. Concurrently, Stage Door Theatre is experiencing a bittersweet breakup of its own with the venue in Margate. After 25 years of using the former movie theater-turned playhouse for theatrical productions, Stage Door Theatre is moving to the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center in Fort Lauderdale. Serving as a symbol for a real separation while simultaneously presenting a mounted one, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, for the most part, successfully executes both.
Set during Labor Day weekend in the Catskills, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do begins in an interactive way, with the cast engaging the audience and sitting amongst them. Hostess Esther (Gail Byer) greets the audience with plenty of sass and schtick, welcoming them to her glittery and tropical-themed venue, Esther's Paradise, adorned with bamboo sticks and palm trees, all to great effect by set designer Ardean Landhuis. Esther runs the show with headlining ham Del Delmonaco (Bruno Faria), his gregarious fellow performer and her love interest Harvey Feldman (Michael H. Small), and mousy stagehand extraordinaire Gabe (Trenton Bainbridge, making his stage door debut).
Rounding out the cast are two young ladies plucked from the audience: broken-hearted Marge Gelman (Molly Shippy), recently scorned by her former fiance Leonard, and her spicy, fun-loving, well-intentioned friend Lois Warner (Leigh Green, making her Stage Door debut), coming along to rescue her from her sorrows. Wearing Jerry Sturdevant's peppiest and cheeriest period costumes for the show, they look like they are there to have a good time even though Marge doesn't initially feel like partying.
While lamenting over the lost opportunity for a honeymoon with her former beau, Marge's attention is captured by Del's flashy and over-inflated ways. Happy that Marge's spirits are beginning to lift, Lois encourages this turnaround a little too much and nudges Marge in Del's self-absorbed and irresponsible direction. After the ladies find out that Del is being invited to be featured on "American Bandstand," Lois, an aspiring singer and performer, nudges Del toward Marge in return by telling him that Marge's dad is a manager. With the trio having heightened expectations of one another, they move forward in a pact to perform together on "American Bandstand." Unfortunately, no one receives the results they desire.
Divided into two acts with a 15-minute intermission, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do is two hours, but it never feels that long because of the fun musical numbers and scenes that propel it forward. One of the highlights of the show is "Where the Boys Are" in act one, due largely in part to Green's sweet, over-the-top, engaging, and vivacious performance. Other memorable numbers are act two's "Calendar Girl" and Esther and Harvey's tender duet, "Next Door to an Angel." If you found a budding romance between Esther and Harvey unbelievable before, this number and the connection between Byer and Small compels you to take a second glance. Under Jonathan Van Dyke's direction, Gabe may be a character that is often overlooked, but Bainbridge's clumsy and understated portrayal of him will keep your eyes glued to him to see what he'll do next. His sincere affections for Marge also makes you want to root for him.
A key but unlikable character is Faria's Del Delmonaco. Written to be selfish and hungry for fame, Faria tries to embody this persona, but his performance is sometimes sloppy and lacking in commitment. Faria also has the misfortune of sharing some uncomfortable and difficult blackout time with Shippy. While waiting in the dressing room for the continuation of their scene, Faria and Shippy hold hands and stare at one another for an inordinate amount of time. The staging looks strange and forced.
A live band consisting of pianist and conductor Paul Reekie, guitarist and bassist Sandy Poltarack, and Roy Fantel (through July 22nd, then replaced by Tim Kuchta through closing) on drums and percussion is a welcome and authentic sight upstage.
While breaking up may be hard to do, with some tough moments to hurdle through, this final Stage Door production in Margate lets us down gently and easily, with smiles on our faces and peace. A lighthearted production with highs and lows, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do is a great way to end an era that honors Stage Door's faithful patrons.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, through August 12th, 2018, at Stage Door Theatre, 8036 West Sample Road, Coral Springs FL. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. For tickets and information please call 954-344-776 or visit www.stagedoorfl.org.