Monday, March 31, 2014

THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG



Scott Irwin and Teagan Wouters
Book:   Neil Simon

Music: Marvin Hamlish

Lyrics: Carole Bayer Sager

Presented by HIT Productions.

Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre until 5th April 2014.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

This charming little musical, written by Neil Simon and purportedly based on the real-life relationship of composer, Marvin Hamlish and lyricist, Carole Bayer Sager, scored a huge success in Australia in the 1980’s when Jackie Weaver and John Waters toured endlessly in the original, rather more lavish, Australian production.

Fond memories of this production, first seen when Rhonda Burchmore was among the back-up singers, and later, when it played in the Canberra Playhouse, and Donna Lee was one of the back-up singers, and another later production starring Peta Toppano and Barry Quin, which also played the Canberra Theatre Centre, and yet another production, sans backing singers, at the Ensemble Theatre in Sydney starring Simon Burke and Georgie Parker, were revived by this elegant little touring production now playing in the Q in Queanbeyan, also minus the backing singers.

Terence O’Connell, who both designed and directed this production, has wisely elected to keep his show firmly grounded in the 1970’s when telephones and dictaphones were the norm, men wore flairs and women tottered dangerously in sky-scraper high platform shoes. The show follows the travails of wise-cracking composer, Vernon Gersch (Scott Irwin) and offbeat lyricist, Sonia Walsk (Teagan Wouters) as they gingerly negotiate a relationship, both business and personal.  There is a third person in this relationship, Sonia’s ex-boyfriend, Leon, who we never get to meet, but who is hilariously omnipresent throughout the show.

O’Connell’s uncluttered, elegant setting and finely detailed direction serve the production well. Scott Irwin is a delightfully dorky Vernon Gersch. The songs suit his excellent baritone, and Neil Simons’ rather dated but still chuckle-a-minute dialogue allows him plenty of opportunity to display his finely honed comedic timing.

Teagan Wouters is deliciously ditsy as Sonia Walsk, the lyricist with a penchant for wearing theatre wardrobe left-overs, and plagued with an over-developed maternal instinct. Together they manage Neil Simons’ script with flair and negotiate some potentially cheesy moments with panache, developing a convincing onstage relationship which is both charming and entertaining.

Musical Director, Alistair Smith, seated inconspicuously at a baby grand piano upstage, and employing some judicious over-dubs in lieu of the aforementioned backing singers, provided the musical accompaniments, which on opening night occasionally threatened to overwhelm the singers.

A special bonus is the presence of former Canberran, Roni Wilkinson, seen in silhouette at various moments during the show carrying out her stage-management duties efficiently and relatively inconspicuously.
 
It is unlikely that we are ever likely to see a full-scale professional revival of this musical, so for those who have never seen this show, this nicely mounted production by HIT Productions provides a very welcome opportunity to experience it, while providing for the rest of us, a nostalgic reminder of what a delightfully  pleasant evening of music theatre it provides. 
                                                         Photo: Garry Moore

           This review appears in Australian Arts Review   www.artsreview.com.au
 

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