If ever there were an ideal show for Musical Theatre Guild to revive, it is Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents’ Do I Hear A Waltz? Terrific songs. A book based on a successful play and movie. A couldn’t-be-more-romantic setting. Mixed reviews. Only 200 performances on Broadway. In short, a show you’re unlikely to see revived in any major sort of way any time soon.
Fortunately, thanks to MTG, L.A. audiences got treated to its many delights last night at Glendale’s historic Alex Theatre.
The 1965 Tonys may well have set a record for number of nominated musicals, eleven in all. Bajour, Baker Street, Do I Hear a Waltz?, Fade Out – Fade In, Fiddler on the Roof, Flora the Red Menace, Golden Boy, Half a Sixpence, I Had a Ball, Oh, What a Lovely War!, and The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd all scored at least one nomination. Still, since Fiddler’s only Tony loss was to Liza Minnelli’s Best Actress win as Flora, the only category in which it was not nominated, it’s no wonder that only the townspeople of Anatevka have survived in revival after revival.
Cut to November 15, 2015 and MTG’s concert staged reading of Do I Hear A Waltz, worthy of interest if only as the single Rodgers-Sondheim collaboration, one which gave us not only the lovely title song but such gorgeous romantic gems as “Take The Moment,” “Moon In My Window,” “Stay,” and “Thank You So Much,” in addition to the clever bonbons that are “This Week Americans,” “What Do We Do? We Fly!,” “No Understand,” “Perfectly Lovely Couple,” and “We’re Gonna Be All Right,” the latter noteworthy as the only Richard Rodgers ditty ever to feature the word “homosexual.”
Laurents’ book (based on his 1952 play The Time Of The Cuckoo, which in turn became the 1955 Katharine Hepburn flick Summertime) takes us to Venice (Italy, not California) where 40ish spinster Leona Samish (Kim Huber) has arrived in the almost certainly vain hope of hearing a waltz, her way of describing the “magical, mystical miracle” that can only transpire when soul mates meet.
Leona’s fellow guests at the pensione run by Signora Fioria (Eileeen Barnett)—old marrieds Mr. and Mrs. McIlhenny (Doug Carfrae and Marsha Kramer) and young marrieds Eddie and Jennifer Yaeger (Zachary Ford and Ashley Fox Linton), all of them American—offer our lovelorn heroine no hope whatsoever of her dream becoming a reality, that is until silver-foxy Venetian shopkeeper Renato di Rossi (Robert Yacko) shows up to introduce Leona to Venice’s many sights (with his own many charms thrown in for good measure).
Rodgers’ music and Sondheim’s lyrics stand the test of time better than Laurents’ only occasionally compelling book, one whose supporting characters are either underdeveloped (the Yaegers) or mostly thrown in for comic relief (the McIlhennys, me-no-speaka-Inglese maid Giovanna, and ragamuffin guide boy Mauro). More serious is the likelihood that l’amore impossibile will lead to anything happier than a bittersweet ending, hardly the recipe for Broadway hit status.
Still, any production that provides the divine Huber with a role as rich as Leona (and songs that few can sing as gorgeously as she) is well worth staging, if only for a single night. Because it is Huber, we love Leona at first sight despite her prickly nature, and when her heart breaks in a scene that seems the result of weeks of rehearsal rather than a mere 25 hours, Huber earns tears and cheers in equal measure.
Yacko is Rossanno Brazzi-esque perfection as Renato, with vocals that would do any Broadway star proud. Ford and Linton could not be better, or better (mis)matched, as a young couple whose all-American good looks hide a not-so-perfect marriage. Carfrae and Kramer make for a delightful couple of seasoned Yankee tourists, Jude Mason is a charismatic scene-stealer as Mauro, and David Crane is a dashingly handsome Vito.
Most memorable of all among supporting players are Barnett’s warm and witty Fioria and Lindsey Alley’s molto deliziosa Giovanna, whose English lessons with Ford’s Eddie earn laughs galore in the trio’s “No Understand.”
Credit director Richard Israel for helping to shape the above performances with added snaps for figuring out again and again how to make Do I Hear A Waltz? come across more fully-staged production than reading. (The use of straight-back chairs to simulate windows is inspired.)
Jennifer Lin scores high marks as musical director, conducting and playing keyboards in the production’s pitch-perfect four-piece orchestra.
Though each character gets only a single outfit, they are all 1960s winners thanks to costume designer A. Jeffrey Schoenberg and AJS Costumes.
Roy Leake, Jr. is production coordinator. Tara Sitser is production stage manager. Art Brickman is production manager. Mara Aguilar and Kirsten D’Agostaro Shook are assistant stage managers.
Since we’re unlikely to see a fully-staged Do I Hear A Waltz? revival in the foreseeable future, those who caught its one-night-only return at the Alex can count themselves fortunate indeed. The songs are still dancing in my head the morning after.
Alex Theatre, Glendale.
November 15, 2015
Photos: Janice Young