Sunday, September 18, 2005

They're Playing Our Song (Actors' Summit)

‘They’re Playing Our Song’ misses mark at Actors Summit

‘THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG,’ now on stage at Actor’s Summit, is Neil Simon’s thinly veiled story of the relationship between the show’s musical writer, Marvin Hamlish and its lyricist, Carol Bayer Sager. As he usually does, Simon exaggerates situations and creates wonderfully pointed lines. No one writes better comic relational arguments than Simon. Add this to Hamlisch’s schmaltzy music and Sager’s sentimental lyrics and you have a perfect combination for a nice escapist musical.

Hamlish and Sager had a conflicting personal relationship while producing many excellent pieces of music. In the musical version of a their lives, composer Vernon deals with his angst by speaking into a tape recorder, while lyricist Sonia handles hers by becoming an enabler/analyst to her former lover, the unseen Leon. Vernon and Sonia’s attempts to compose songs and get a grip on their personal relationship are constantly interrupted by her devotion to Leon and by each of their own overblown egos. In spite of all the problems, Vernon finds himself smitten by Sonia's odd personality and charmed by her penchant to save money by wearing discarded theatrical costumes. After break-ups and reconciliations, the pair make a guarded truce. And, as in all good fairy tales and escapist musicals, they live happily ever after. (In real life...not so!)

Every director makes decisions when planning the staging of a play. Sometimes those decisions are right on, other times they are questionable. Actors’ Summit’s Mary Jo Alexander decided, for some unexplicable reason, to change the basic premise which usually adds in making ‘THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG’ delightful. She decided to make the normal cast of 8 performers into a duet.

Usually, there are the main characters, Vernon and Sonia Walsk and their inner voices. Both Vernon and Sonia hear from these voices in the throes of creativity. Vernon hears harmonies from his three "boys," and Sonia hears a range of emotions from her three "girls." These voices, usually pop up at inappropriate times to add mirth to the goings on. Without these voices the show loses much of its texture and puts the total weight on the shoulders of the two remaining performers. Unfortunately for Actors’ Summit, neither of the cast members is capable of handling the show on their own.

Shani Ferry is very pretty and has nice stage presence, but lacks both the vocal abilities and acting depth to carry off the complex role of Sonia. She stays on the surface and never quite convinces that she is both air-headed and grounded. Her voice fails in the high notes and she often sings words rather than meanings of the lyrics. Donnie Long (Vernon) fares better as he has nice vocal abilities. But, as with Ferry, he doesn’t have the acting depth to make the character into a real person. The duo also lack chemistry between them. Their kisses are like a brother and sister politely greeting each other and their bodies never contact with any believability.

Pianist Michael Flohr does well, but there were several times when fingering errors were noticeable. MaryJo Alexander’s costume designs and executions are excellent.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Actors Summit’s ‘THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG’ is a less than stellar production.