‘They’re Playing Our Song’ mirrors banality of its time

January 8, 2019

“They’re Playing Our Song” – Courtesy of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre. Used with permission.

First of all, let me say, I lived the 70s. The fashion, the hair, disco, the whole nine yards. I was in my 20s and early 30s, so it was a fun, lighthearted era, but compared to the momentous 60s that preceded it, it was fairly shallow. Of course, I am generalizing, but looking back, that was my impression

I really looked forward to “They’re Playing Our Song” at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, which I had not seen previously, but finally saw at Saturday’s media night. I figured the show, which premiered on Broadway in 1978, would prompt a lot of nostalgia for me. Also, considering I am a fan of the late Marvin Hamlisch, whom I interviewed several times and saw perform in Indy at least five times, I presumed I would enjoy the show’s score, which he composed, and the lyrics written by Carole Bayer Sager. Knowing the musical was based on his and Bayer Sager’s real-life, romantic relationship also piqued my interest.

Unfortunately, I found the show less than an entertaining, if not laborious, experience. The plot is fairly simple. A romantic comedy, the story chronicles the ups and downs of the personal relationship between songwriters Vernon Gersch and Sonia Walsk. After a series of challenges and obstacles, the two finally realize they are meant for each other and the show concludes with a happy, if not predictable ending.

I keep in mind that when seeing any period piece, I must keep things in context. In this case, playwright-screenwriter-author Neil Simon’s script was written in the spirit of the times. But in this case, the dialogue just came off as vapid. Simon wrote some of the funniest stage and film comedies from the 60s through the 80s, but this one, for me, did not hit the mark. In fact, it fell way too short, particularly in the show’s first act, which lasted more than an hour and 15 minutes, a length that tested both my attention span and patience.

However, the failings of the script may have had less to do with its comic elements and more to do with the show’s acting. Though Sarah Hund was convincing as Sonia, the exuberant free spirit who finds it impossible to end a co-dependent relationship with her ex, the omnipresent Leon, I can’t say the same for David Schmittou, who played sarcastic and super focused Vernon. Coming off as merely curmudgeonly, Schmittou’s character did not resister any believable chemistry with Hund, making their romance unconvincing. Schmittou also fell short when it came to his effectively executing his character’s physical comedy. His imperfections may have stemmed from Jeff Stockberger’s direction, or the actor’s own inadequacies, but whatever the case, both his vocal and acting performance left me unsatisfied.  Based on the audience’s tepid response to his character’s one-liners, I was not alone.

As far as the show’s score, the only song that is memorable is its title song, “They’re Playing Our Song,” and only because it’s embedded in my memory from all the radio airplay it received back in the day. The rest of the show’s songs did little to drive its plot.

Also in the cast were four chorus members, who played the couples’ alter-egos. Dancing to pedestrian, disco-style choreography the quartet hardly made a dent, functioning mostly as mere props.

Though the performances and the show itself were unfulfilling, I am pleased to report that Michael Layton’s appealing set which includes a proscenium designed to look like a gold frame and a backdrop depicting NYC’s Brooklyn Bridge was quite appealing and, as usual, Ryan Kolharchick’s lighting was first-rate.

For tickets and information about “They’re Playing Our Song,” call (317) 872-9664 or visit beefandboards.com.

photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

On the Aisle Team

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