THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG
by Neil Simon
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager
Onstage in Bedford
Direction and Musical Direction by Byron Holder
Choreography by Kimberly Anne Cooper
Lighting Design by Scott Davis
Costume Design by Julie Molina and Jerome Lewis
Scenic Design by Byron Holder
Properties by Abel Casillas
Stage Management by Stephanie Jackson
Vernon Gersch – Jack Agnew
Sonia Walsk – Laura Jennings
Vernon?s Voices-Ethan Dunn, Cooper Wiseman, John Anthony Sanchez
Sonia?s Voices-Lindsay Hayward, Erynn Michelle, Kimberly Anne Cooper
Keyboards – Byron Holder
Drums – Randy Lindberg
Bass – Steve Cullen
Guitar – Enrique Olachea
ONSTAGE in Bedford’s production of They’re Playing Our Song hits all the right notes in a fun-filled, toe-tapping production.
The musical had its world premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in December 1978. After eleven previews, the Broadway production, directed by Robert Moore, choreographed by Patricia Birch, and starring Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz (in her Broadway debut), opened on February 11, 1979 at the Imperial Theatre, where it ran for 1,082 performances. Notable cast replacements included Tony Roberts, Stockard Channing, Victor Garber, Anita Gillette, and Ted Wass.
In a story based on the real-life relationship of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager; a wisecracking composer finds a new, offbeat lyricist, and initially the match is not one made in heaven. The two undergo a series of trials and overcome a number of hurdles before finding true love by the final curtain.
They’re Playing Our Song is essentially a two-character show. Vernon and Sonia are the sole characters on stage; each character has a three-person “Greek Chorus” acting as their inner voices, making for some wonderfully funny moments.
The Trinity Arts Theatre that ONSTAGE occupies is a wonderfully intimate space that this production fits in perfectly. Once the grand drape opens you are presented with a simple, yet functional fixed set designed by Director Byron Holder of a NYC skyline. Although somewhat two dimensional, it works well with the unique moving set pieces that function perfectly throughout the show.
Mr. Holder takes on a lot of responsibility in this production as Director, Musical Director, Set Designer and Conductor of the orchestra. This does unfortunately affect some of the production quality throughout the evening. His stage direction of the talented cast is superb, well-designed and keeps you involved with the storyline. Where it shows he was stretched a bit too far is in some of the vocals. Using microphones on the two principals works very well, but some of the ensemble’s vocals are not matched in volume and projection to keep full company numbers balanced. Ironically, the men’s trio is superb, strong and wonderfully tuned; the women’s trio, however, are always overpowered and rarely can you hear their beautiful harmonies and backups.
The choreography by Kimberly Anne Cooper works very well throughout the entire performance and is a pleasure to watch. She uses simple moves that fit into each scene (the nightclub scene kept a smile on my face the whole time) and never distracts from the action on the stage. Ms. Cooper does a wonderful job utilizing the talent of her performers.
There is no credit listed for the sound design, but some elements work very well while others are a bit off. Stormy/rainy effects come off as confusing and distracting, while the scenes in the recording studio with practical responses from the “booth tech” behind the audience are perfect. I was confused and a bit caught off guard with the entr’acte music being what sounded like the original soundtrack recording. As the overture is played live by the band, this didn’t make sense to me and felt as if the orchestra just ran out of time to learn it.
Casting for the production is perfectly done! This show requires two VERY strong vocalists with superb comedic timing and convincing acting. All are accomplished by the two principal performers under Holder’s direction.
Vernon Gersch, played by Jack Agnew, is just a pleasure to watch on stage. His acting and facial expressions are only topped by his heartfelt vocals. In every song, you see the emotion whether funny, sad or complex. There is never a moment Mr. Agnew doesn’t seem fully invested in his role and tells the story wonderfully.
Laura Jennings as Sonia Walsk would make the authors (about whom this show is about) very, VERY proud! From the first moment she takes the stage in neurotic explosions to poignant, emotionally charged solo scenes, Ms. Jennings simply shines. I have seen this show numerous times and her portrayal is one of the best I’ve ever seen. She offers a fresh, yet restrained compassion to the script I just loved watching. Brava Ms. Jennings on a job well done!!
The ensemble cast playing the “inner voices” of the two principal characters also do well on stage. It’s not easy to cast an ensemble that has NO lines, yet has to ACT when they are performing, not just singing. This requires great reactions, facial expressions and involvement in the active scenes. On those fronts, all of them do wonderfully.
I do have to mention two members that stand out in the ensemble. Cooper Wiseman and Ethan Dunn add vibrant performances throughout the entire show. Never pulling focus, but always fully invested in their individual performances, these two talented actors are simply exciting to watch!
You will definitely enjoy They’re Playing Our Song at ONSTAGE and leave the theatre with a few of the wonderful tunes in your head that make you smile all the way home.
Richard S. Blake