World Premiere Musical Launched In San Diego

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

It may be the 21st Century but vestiges of 20th Century theatre genres still pop-up every now and then.  Such is the case with the production currently on the boards of the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at San Diego’s famous Old Globe Theatre.

     Before we go too far, however, let me say that the production, wonderfully directed by the very creative and talented Scott Schwartz, is a visual feast for the eyes and ears.  It’s chock full of exceptionally fine actor/singers and boasts brilliantly executed technical credits.  I just wish the folks in charge of production choices at the Globe, however, had not optioned for a return to the style of yesteryear and the genre of the operetta.  Operettas, although simplistic, were successful in their day – from the turn of the century to the 1940’s – with Sigmund Romberg being the most successful practitioner of the genre.  Which brings us back to  “A Room With A View”.

     The E.M. Forster novel written in 1908 is about a young English woman Lucy Honeychurch (a young and innocent Ephie Aardema) living in the repressed culture of Edwardian England who vacations abroad with her chaperone and older cousin Charlotte (wonderfully played by Karen Ziemba), to a less oppressive Italy in order to find herself and to expand her horizons.  It was made into a Merchant/Ivory movie back in 1985 starring Maggie Smith and Helena Bonham Carter.  Now the love story of Lucy and George is being told as a musical… er, operetta.

(from left) Ephie Aardema as Lucy Honeychurch, Edward Staudenmayer as Reverend Mr. Beeber and Karen Ziemba as Charlotte Bartlett ~Photo by Henry DiRocco.

When Lucy and Charlotte complain, upon arriving in Florence, that their room has no view of the famed Arno river, Mr. Emerson (Kurt Zischke), a fellow Brit (a Peter Falk look alike, with a voice that Mr. Falk could only dream of possessing), offers his and his son George’s (an energetic Kyle Harris) room that does indeed, have a view of the Arno.  The exchange of rooms also allows for George and Lucy to meet.   However, future meetings will be conducted under the watchful and proetctive eye of cousin Charlotte.  It seems there is a proper suitor in Lucy’s future, the wealthy Mr. Cecil Vyse (expertly played and sung by Will Reynolds) who awaits Lucy’s return to London.

     The pensione is a magnet for fellow Brits seeking respite from drab and class-conscious Edwardian England. Some are just eccentric ex-pats like Miss Lavish (Gina Ferrall) who is forever writing her novel, others like the two old middle-class spinsters Miss Allan (Will Reynolds) and the other Miss Allan (Etai BenSchlomo), who just like to travel, to The Reverend Mr. Beeber (comically and marvelously played by Edward Staudenmayer), a middle class, repressed snob, and a somewhat gender-challenged clergyman who has a penchant for sticking his nose into everyone else’s business.

     Two characters created for the production by playwright Acito, are Ragazza (a sexy Jacquelynne Fontaine) and Italiano (Glenn Seven Allen, a tenor with a soaring range).  They represent the free spirit of the Mediterranean culture, which the residents of the pensione claim to be seeking before returning home to England.  It may not be faithful to the Forster novel, but it’s a most welcome addition.  Singers Allen and Fontaine are the possessors of marvelous operatic voices.  In all, the production features sixteen characters, but played by ten very talented actor/singers.  I would be remiss if I didn’t, at least, allude to three of the characters who give it their all for the theatre by jumping bare naked into an onstage pool in a number called “Splash”.  I’ll give you a hint.  All three are males. Oh, what the heck, they are George, Freddy, and Reverend Beeber. 

    The Old Globe’s lush Tuscany-looking production is vividly brought to life, not only by the libretto of Marc Acito, and the music and lyrics of Jeffery Stock; which lend a definite modern-sounding “Sondheimian” phrasing quality to the musical score (and that isn’t bad).   Kudos also go to costume designer Judith Dolan for visually recreating the period so effectively.   Heidi Ettinger’s richly textured and clever set design (I like the use of the wagons for the England settings and the space staging with tormentors for Italy) allows director Schwartz and his cast to move freely from Italy and back to England in a matter seconds thanks to the technical arsenal that is available to the creative and technical staffs at the Globe.  The evening produced many clever directorial touches from Schwartz.

     The mood-inducing lighting design by David Lander and the sound design by John Weston are ably supported by musical director Boko Suzuki and his pit orchestra, and for the orchestrations of Bruce Coughlin, and the arrangements by composer/lyricist Jeffrey Stock. 

      “A Room With A View” patrons can almost feel and smell the scents and the pleasures of Italy’s seductive Tuscan capitol – Firenze.  Don’t miss it!  The musical production runs through April 15th.  Call 619-231-5623 or go online to www.theoldglobe.org

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