The burgeoning punk music scene of the late 1970s provides the setting for the Outer Critics Circle Award-nominated ROOMS: a rock romance, whose exhilarating West Coast Premiere proves once again that Chance Theater is unmatched as Orange County’s finest intimate theater.
ROOMS takes us to Glasgow, circa 1977, where would-be music superstar Monica P. Miller (Melinda Porto), in search of music to fit her lyrics, finds just the right songwriting partner in Ian (Robert Wallace), and though the result of their first collaboration, “Scottish Jewish Princess,” doesn’t sit well with its commissioner, justifiably upset when Monica’s lyrics out her bisexual teen daughter at her Bat Mitzvah, it does cement a professional relationship between SJP Monica and Scottish Catholic Ian.
Soon enough, Monica’s and Ian’s dreams have taken them from Glasgow to London, and then on to New York success as punk duo The Diabolicals. Before long, however, Ian’s drinking has turned from habit into full-blown alcoholism (along with more than a bit of agoraphobia), putting both their professional and personal relationships very much in jeopardy.
Told through dialog and song, with the emphasis on the latter, ROOMS: a rock romance proves a terrific showcase for its talented creative team (composer-lyricist-book writer Paul Scott Gordon and co-book writer Miriam Gordon). (Mr.) Gordon’s melodies are catchy and melodic, even at their punkest, and his lyrics clever and engaging. As for Ian and Monica’s storyline, though it proves a tad generic (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, etc.), it is told in the most winning of ways, particularly as brought to life by director extraordaire Patrick Pearson and his two dazzling stars, recent UCLA grad Porto and Cal State Fullerton senior Wallace.
The CSUF stamp is pretty much everywhere Rooms, with virtually the entire creative team either Fullerton alumni or current students, including Porto and Wallace’s Scenie-winning understudies Chelsea Baldree and Daniel Wargo. Make no mistake, however. This Chance Theater production is as professional as they come.
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect set of leads than the two rising stars on stage at the Chance. Scenie winner Porto combines perkiness, pizzazz, spunk, leading lady looks, and one powerful set of pipes as Monica. As for her Ian, Wallace not only matches the character’s description of self (“massive sexual charisma and charm”), he adds to that a dark broodiness and a terrific rock-star voice.
Pearson’s direction is every bit as inspired as were his stagings of A New Brain, Songs From An Unmade Bed, Altar Boyz, Violet, Equus, I Love You Because, Reefer Madness, and The Trouble With Words, productions which have won him four consecutive Scenie Awards, two for Best Direction and two as Director Of The Year. Major L.A./O.C. theaters would do well to snap Pearson up before we lose him to Broadway.
Music director/keyboardist Robyn Manion merits highest marks for her work here, joined by Brian Cannady on percussion, David Lee on guitars, and Gary Fields on bass, with occasional help from Wallace on guitar. Arrangements and orchestrations (both fabulous) are by Broadway star Jesse Vargas.
As for Rooms’ design package, it is a stunner, starting with Joe Holbrook’s striking set, which makes the Chance stage seem twice its size through use of perspective. Matt Schleicher’s lighting design is equally stunning, as is Holbrook’s and Schleicher’s projection design, which surrounds the actors on three sides with scene-setting images of Glasgow, London, New York, and other locales. Add to this Jacob Kaitz’s inventive sound design and Bradley Lock’s spot-on late ‘70s costumes and you’ve got a team of designers whose work would lead you to believe this mostly CSUF student team to be longtime pros.
Vincent Quan is assistant projection designer, Lora Miller dialect coach, Teodora Ramos master carpenter and crew, and Bryan Williams crew. Jennifer Mirkin is stage manager and prop master. Oanh Nguyen is Chance Theater artistic director, Casey Long managing director, Erika C. Miller development director, Masako Tobaru production manager/technical director, Jocelyn A. Brown associate artistic director, Jeff Hellebrand box office associate, Courtny Greenough company manager, and Jennifer Ruckman literary manager.
It’s taken ROOMS: a rock romance nearly four years to make it from off-Broadway to the West Coast, leading this reviewer to wonder what took our theaters so long to bring it out west, and to rejoice in its finally getting here in such an all-around sensational production. Previous Chance musicals have won the O.C. gem awards galore, including a Best Musical Ovation Award for last year’s Jerry Springer: The Opera, currently nominated for eight Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards. Though considerably more intimate than Jerry’s big-cast free-for-all, ROOMS: a rock romance is no less fine a production, and one well worth the drive from L.A. to Anaheim Hills.
Note: The roles of Monica and Ian will be played by Baldree and Wargo on February 19 at 2:00 and 7:00, February 25 at 3:00, and March 2 at 8:00.
Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills.
February 4, 2012
Photos: Doug Catiller, True Image Studio