‘They’re Playing Our Song” is a show whose individual parts satisfy more than the sum of them, and the production at The Theater Barn does a mighty fine job of delivering on those parts.
Premiering on Broadway in 1979, this pocket musical by composer Marvin Hamlisch and singer/songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, with a book by Neil Simon, chronicles the 1970s relationship between Hamlisch and Sager, here known as Vernon Gersch (Ryan Halsaver) and
Sonia Walsk (Caitlin Lester-Sams).
When the two meet in Gersch’s New York City apartment to compose a few songs, each has already achieved some fame. He has just set her lyrics to music, and the result is “Fallin,” the fi rst of eight songs that, over two acts, document the ups and downs of their romantic and professional relationship.
How much Simon has stuck to the truth and how much he has invented I don’t know. What is evident, however, are Simon’s familiar one-liners, the kind that make the audience laugh but not anyone on stage. In other words, it’s not realistic. In real life, people laugh when somebody says something amusing.
Sometimes the lines don’t even make the audience laugh, and you can almost feel the energy it takes for the actors to wade through the lines. This is sitcom, really, and that’s fine, as long as you know you’re not getting a lot of irony or insight.
LONG FIRST ACT
What does help is the fact that Gersch and Walsk are both neurotic artists, whose tics keep the action going. He’s obsessive about composing; she’s compulsive about helping out her former lover, even as she’s falling in love with Vernon. We’ve seen it before: strait-laced boy meets chatty flibbertigibbet (think Holly Golightly or early Shirley MacLaine), which makes for some funny confl icts. But at 80 minutes, Act 1 overstays its welcome.
By the time the last scene comes, which may be true-tolife but feels like a quick-fix patch, the piece is just silly. It’s as if even Simon knew it was time to wrap it up.
There are some clever touches in the script, particularly the inclusion of The Voices of Vernon Gersch and The Voices of Sonia Walsk, two trios that serve as the main characters’ inner thoughts. The six young men and women in this production dance (sometimes to cover scene changes), sing harmoniously, and mug with aplomb. And one of the evening’s best numbers occurs with Halsaver and the guys in “Fill in the Words”: cute.
The set satisfactorily serves a number of locales, and the lighting changes are crisp. The costuming is not as ’70s-appropriate as it could be, particularly in Vernon’s case. More color and flare would have added to the show’s fun.
Under Michael Perreca’s direction and Victoria Casella’s musical leadership (an unseen three-piece band works effectively stage left), the show moves as briskly as it can, and the two hardworking leads are excellent. Though the tessitura for a few of the songs seems a bit low for Lester-Sams, she’s a fine singer, particularly on a stunning rendition of “I Still Believe in Love.” Comic antics? She can do ’em, too. Halsaver is apoplexy incarnate, and his singing is top-notch throughout his range. The two give and take in equal measure.
Next up at The Theater Barn is Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.”