“They’re Playing Our Song” a Little Off Key
“They’re Playing Our Song” is a delightful musical based loosely on the relationship of Marvin Hamlisch and Carol Bayer Sager who provide the music and lyrics respectively, for this Neil Simon written book. Set in the 1970s the show takes us through the trials and tribulations of Vernon Gersch, an uptight, somewhat neurotic Julliard School of Music composer who has achieved fame, several Grammys, and an Academy Award for his work with a disorganized, free spirited equally neurotic composer, Sonia Walsk who, while she has achieved some success in her own right, is in total awe of Gersch’s success, lifestyle and the view from his 17th floor Manhattan apartment.
The show is essentially a two-person show, with the unique conceit of a Greek Chorus as the “voices in the heads” of both main characters. Theirs is not a match made in heaven, and the play spends the majority of the time showing the audience how this relationship should never work either professionally or personally, but we see something different. Sonia is totally absorbed in her relationship with Leon, her ex-boyfriend, from whom neither one is able to make the break. While Leon is never seen, he is most centrally a major character in the play.
Saratoga’s Home Made Theater a staple on the Community Arts scene, has been tied to its physical roots at the Spa Little Theater since 1986 “pivoted” this year in light of dealing with the COVID epidemic and now calls the Dee Sarno Theater on Broadway in downtown Saratoga its new home. Home Made has chosen “They’re Playing Our Song” as the newest production. The show has some bright points but is riddled with issues. Ryan Munzert makes his first appearance with the troupe, and, according to the program his first in a musical. While his acting is enjoyable to watch, he is comfortable in Vernon’s skin, his singing is pitchy at best and he has yet to learn to sing with the orchestra rather than fight the accompaniment. Conversely, Joelle Malinowski, as Sonia who’s voice and musical prowess is sweet and totally enjoyable to listen to, specifically in “They’re Playing My Song” and the more thoughtful pieces, “If He Really Knew Me” and “Just For Tonight,” we are always aware she is on stage acting. If she could temper the acting to match the meter of her singing, she would have had a smooth and completely captivating performance.
The backup voices, three for Sonia and two for Vernon also have one outstanding person on each side of the stage. Logan Haynes and Isabella Varno each bring the perfect combination of stage presence, emotion, and beautiful singing qualities to their roles.
All of the problems are not just with the performances. The devil is in the details… and here too the production falls short. The backup singers in each scene they appear, are the imagined voices of the characters they portray, their costumes all should have been identical matches to their counterparts, (this only happens once with Sonia’s ) they were not, even down to the fact that one of the women was a blonde while the others all had black hair. It is at the very least a distraction that should not have been. We see furniture moved from one set to another in different homes, another distraction. It seems odd, that three coffee tables or two additional chairs could not have been found.
Home Made’s General Manager Eric Rudy has helmed this production as its director. He allows the show’s pacing to breathe when necessary and become frenetic when it is called for. Perhaps some of the issues may be due to his lack of a critical eye on what is happening around the production. Pieces of the production work well, others, not so much. The moving set pieces designed by William E. Fritz work extremely well. Arlette St. Romain’s choreography is tight, thoughtful, and well-executed. Cudos to Musical Director Richard Cherry for leading an outstanding orchestra, set as the background on stage throughout the production.
Simon’s book is witty, fun, and typical Neil Simon. Hamlish’s score and Bayer Sager’s lyrics are the glue that holds this show together. The music is memorable and leaves you exiting the theater hoping for more of what might have been rather than what was.
Community theater in the greater Capital Region has more often than not, been on a par with much of the professional work this area is fortunate to have the opportunity to see. Home Made Theater has, over the years presented many productions that have lived up to that promise. Unfortunately, “They’re Playing Our Song”, still has a ways to go.
“They’re Playing Our Song” continues next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Feb. 18-20 at the Dee Sarno Theater on Broadway Saratoga, next to Congress Park.
The theater adheres to COVID protocol. For more information or tickets, 518-587-4427 or www.homemadetheater.org.
Ouch, this is overly harsh. This theatre company (as well as other all over the country) has been through a lot these last two years.
They lost their home base, storage and rehearsal space has been significantly reduced which accounts for the reuse of props as they have to be transported (by volunteers) from another location several miles away.
On top of all this, several cast members (many of whom are taking part in their first production) caught COVID and we’re forced to rehearse via zoom.
All this going against the company and they STILL come out giving all they have to bring laughter to our community at a time when it’s needed most.
In the future, instead of viewing a production in such a negative manner you should educate yourself on the background first.
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