Stephen Sondheim’s lost musical
Director Scott Schwartz does what he can with book writer Marc Acito and composer and lyricist Jeffrey Stock’s world premiere musical, “A Room With a View,” playing through April 8 at the Old Globe. Based on E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel, the musical is highly derivative of works by Stephen Sondheim. Surely this is intended. How could listeners not notice?
The best parts of composer and music arranger Stock’s score are wordless places where Bruce Coughlin’s orchestrations help the piece take flight. Granted, they are few, but there are also moments in which one is able to ignore Stephen Sondheim’s insistent voice, plain as it is.
Fans of Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sunday in the Park With George” and “Follies,” to name just a few, will find them all in Stock’s music and lyrics. The best fun of the evening is identifying each rip off.
Fans of E.M. Forster, author of the novel condensed and trivialized here by Acito’s book, will trot out the novel and even the 1985 film, which now seems a masterpiece of subtlety and detail. Those unfamiliar with both may enjoy the musical’s simple spectacle, the situations and even the music. The situations here have nothing to do with English classism and everything to do with the Miss Honeychurch’s fiancé being a prig, and the contender, George Emerson, regardless of his déclassé status, being young and handsome.
Prior to her nuptials, Aunt Charlotte takes the rather unsophisticated Lucy Honeychurch to Florence, or Firenze as the natives prefer, here depicted by scenic designer Heidi Ettinger in multitudes of postcards and frescos that fly in during both acts. Lucy meets a commoner named George and falls in love with him, all the while conjuring up her priggish fiancé, Cecil. A rain of postcards provides visual climax at the show’s happy ending.
The true visual climax, and possibly the best musical number, “Splash” takes place earlier at a country lake, where three actors shuck Judith Dolan’s period clothes in favor of an “in the all together” dip. This perks up Act II considerably.
“A Room With a View” boasts two “opera” singers, hotel workers Ragazza (soprano Jacquelynne Fontaine) and her beloved Italiano (tenor Glenn Seven Allen). They are simply called “girl” and “Italian,” as if lack of proper names might downplay the fact they are able to sing and burst into lusty love duets, a la the Naccarelli family in Adam Guettel’s “The Light in the Piazza.”
Stock’s outlandish vocal lines, unrealistic tessituras and embellishments bedevil most of the company, even those who are accomplished singers, such as George’s father (mellifluous Kurt Zischke), Reverend Beeber (Edward Staudenmayer), the go-ahead Miss Lavish (excellent comic Gina Ferrall) and the truly unsinkable Karen Ziemba, who portrays the repressed Aunt Charlotte.
Ziemba’s 11th hour number, “Frozen Charlotte” could be the show’s best, but the composer freights it with impossible vocal demands.
When writing the musical, it behooves one to pick attractive juvenile leads that also sing well. As the young lovers Lucy and George, Ephie Aardema and Kyle Harris are attractive.
Will Reynolds, who portrays two characters in Act I – Lucy’s fiancé, Cecil Vyse, and Miss Alan − fares best as the old lady. The other Miss Alan is portrayed by the appealing Etai BenSchlomo, who in Act II plays Lucy’s brother and looks great in his buff male guise.
As usual, the Globe’s physical production and orchestra support a new musical wondrously. The pit orchestra of 13, represented by American Federation of Musicians in the U.S. and Canada, and led by conductor and music director Boko Suzuki, is exceptionally fine, comprising keyboards, strings, reeds and horns, acoustic bass and percussion. Kudos to associate music director and keyboardist Andrew Resnick, who plays Beethoven’s Sonata No. 17 (“The Tempest”) on keyboard, as the onstage pianist, Miss Lucy, caterwauls “Ludwig and I” above it.
With ostensible appeal to lovers of classics adaptations and derivative musical theater styles, “A Room With a View” is certain to please many. It continues Tuesdays through Sundays through April 8 in the Old Globe Theatre at the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center, 1391 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park. For more information visit www.theoldglobe.org or call 619-23-GLOBE.