The audience at Montgomery College was already having a good time and the show had not yet begun. You see, this was the annual summer dinner theater show, and the meal had been a good one. Excellent waitresses, crisp salads, lovely soft dinner rolls, tender chicken and rice in a pleasant mushroom sauce, delicious green beans, beverage, and tasty New York style strawberry cheesecake had put everyone in a good mood. That mood would only improve with this frothy and delightful production of They’re Playing Our Song, ably directed by Ellen Ketchum, and featuring fine musical direction from David Englert as he led the talented 13-piece band made up of students and a few professional musicians. The show, which closed a two week run last night, has a book by Neil Simon, music by Marvin Hamlisch, and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager.
The creative scenic design of Lorne S. Kelly (with detail work from Kendall McAnally and Julianne Doyen) produced a versatile set that was well lit by designer, Justin Woods. Using dramatic black and white, with a contrasting touch of deep blue in the bedroom, the attractive opening set depicts the plush New York apartment of award winning songwriter, Vernon Gersch (David Kerr). Enter Sonia Walsk (Jami Hughes), an aspiring lyricist who longs to collaborate with Gersch. Ms. Hughes, who also choreographed this show, does not need this lead role to establish herself as a “star” in the M.C. Theater Department. Fans of the school’s productions in recent years, know Hughes best as an outstanding director. As Sonia, Hughes has the opportunity to show her talents as a vocalist; and even if this is not her strong suit, she brings enough energy and enthusiasm to the role to create a fun-filled and delightful character that can win the heart of the audience. At her side throughout is the very talented Mr. Kerr, whose singing voice, in my opinion, is ready for the professional stage. It is rich and full, with a tenderness that is most appealing.
The opening scene is a bit weak in the script; but Hughes creates a high-strung Sonia that is so nutty (her absurdly eclectic wardrobe is made up of costumes from shows she performed in), that we just have to go along for the ride. And as soon as Kerr tunes up his golden pipes for “Fallin’,” it is clear the show can surmount occasional weaknesses in plot and script. As Sonia becomes more and more enamored of Vernon, her co-dependency on the unseen prior boyfriend, “Leon,” develops a hilarious running gag that provides plenty of fun throughout the evening.
In another amusing twist, the co-stars each have a kind of choral alter ego that sometimes pops up to join them in song. These two trios (3 ladies: Megan Cantu, Leslie Harlton, D’Andra Swanson, and 3 gentlemen: Lorne S. Kelley, Chris Thomas and Jim Powels) Do a wonderful job of filling out and enhancing many of the musical numbers, like Hughes’ opener, “Workin’ It Out.” Hughes and her co-star pair for a solid “If He (She) Knew Me” that has an especially strong performance from Mr. Kerr. This is the kind of voice folks would pay to hear in concert.
Crisp set changes bring us quickly to the bistro, “Le Club.” Sonia’s late arrival (in hot pink feather boa, matching pillbox hat, and glittering silver shoes) is peppered with rapid-fire apologies and raving; but with Ms. Hughes fine enunciation, every word of the humorous bit is clearly heard. Kerr offers both winning voice and personality in singing the title tune. The chorus and Ms. Hughes join in with pleasant choreography of her own design. Our somewhat neurotic lead characters are starting to hit it off both personally and professionally, but jealous Vernon quips, “Why don’t you and I break up so we can spend more time together?” And speaking of neuroses, the “couch” scene is a riot with each character spilling his guts to the “analyst” while the other drifts dreamily away in song. And then there is the couple’s not-so-relaxing getaway to Quogue, Long Island!
Act II features some of Hughes’ most convincing comedic work, and there is a nice duet of the sweet, “When You’re In My Arms.” As the relationship falters, Sonia sings an “I Still Believe in Love” that is full of heartbreak. An injured Vernon expresses his longing for Sonia in the pleasantly melodic “Fill in the Words.” Do they finally work things out? You bet they do!
The only real problems of the night were the erratic audio elements (misbehaving microphones and speakers), and the out-of-control air-conditioning that kept the room much too cold. Many in the audience accepted the kitchen staff offer of fresh tablecloths to wrap around themselves for warmth! But it was worth braving the chill to enjoy this warmly received production!
(The Courier 7.21.02)