“Living on Love” brings classy comedy to Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

Douglas Sills and Anna Chlumsky
Douglas Sills and Anna Chlumsky (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Theatre Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: What I liked most at the opening night performance of Living on Love was being in the middle of an audience that is laughing constantly, getting all the jokes and having a ball. When Joe DiPietro rewrote Garson Kanin’s play Peccadillo for the Williamstown Theatre Festival, it was like taking a classic 1950’s car and rebuilding it, better than before. It takes the typical tale of the trials and tribulations of a celebrity marriage, both down-to-earth and alternately stormy and sweet. In the end this is a classy comedy that is as much fun to watch as to listen to. It reminds me of the Broadway period that headlined great talents such as Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker. I so enjoyed all of them when I was a youth.

Gail M. Burns: While I thoroughly enjoyed the show in the end, it took me a while to warm up to the rather creaky 1950′s humor. What won me over were the excellent performances by all six actors in this piece.

Larry: The six members of the cast were as fine an ensemble as the WTF has ever put together, though seemingly unlikely choices. Douglas Sills was very Beethovenesque as the internationally acclaimed conductor Vito de Angelis and physically imposing, while his wife, Rachel de Angelis, was played by the great opera singer Renée Fleming, taking on the first straight theatre role of her illustrious career. Of course, she managed to get a few notes in, starting with Vissi d’arte from Tosca and finishing the show in a duet with Vito of “Always,” which Irving Berlin wrote in 1925 as a melodic birthday gift to his wife. People always assume Fleming is a diva, but she told me that she began in jazz, and has a classic American Songbook side to her vocal delivery that is both lush and totally un-operatic.

Gail: I loved the shock of grey hair that Sills displayed as he put Beethoven’s Fifth on the record player for his seduction scene with Anna as Iris. George S. Kaufman, co-author of June Moon, the most recent occupant of the WTF Main Stage this summer, told Berlin that while he liked the melody, he thought the lyrics should be changed to something more realistic, like “I’ll be loving you…Thursday.”

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