San Diego, CA—-The novel “A Room With A View” by E.M. Forster is a charming period piece that takes place in the early 1900’s. It was published in 1908 as England was on the cusp of sloughing off the repressive Victorian attitudes and readying itself toward more flexible and relaxed attitudes in dress, behavior as well as class of the next era. The novel and now the musical follows a young and innocent Lucy Honeychurch on her journey as she manages to step into the throes of youthful love in a foreign country with all the odds stacked up against her. (Judith Dolan’s costumes reflect the social classes of the period to perfection.)
Old attitudes die hard and our heroine Lucy (Ephie Aardema) has had some pretty tough indoctrination by her rigid upbringing at home which is reinforced by her firm and uncompromising spinster (“Frozen Charlotte”) cousin and traveling companion Charlotte Bartlett (Karen Ziemba). Her recent engagement to the stiff upper crust catch Cecil Vyse (Will Reynolds) only matches this behavior and causes somewhat of a standoffish and confused attitude when confronted with her new found choices in another more liberated country with another more liberated young man.
Once in Tuscany, Lucy will meet up with our hero the freethinking, liberal minded but rather dispirited George Emerson (Kyle Harris). She doesn’t know it yet, but her world is about to become more complicated as she and George have several encounters in and around the beautiful Italian landscape that will mark her trip as one to be life altering. (Heidi Ettinger’s set is gorgeously appointed with floating period postcards and pages from a tour guide bearing images that reflect Lucy’s trip and other colorful landscapes. All this is bathed in David Lander’s expert lighting design. The set and scenic design is another major player in this piece.)
In 1985 the novel was adapted to film, and a close facsimile at that. It starred Academy Award winning Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Julian Sands and Daniel Day-Lewis. Now Jeffrey Stock (music, musical arrangements and lyrics), Marc Acito (book and additional lyrics) have come together to mount the first time ever musical of “A Room With a View”.
With a rich score that sounds more operatic than not (there is some wonderful ragtime, “Splash” as well), especially when the entire ensemble is on stage and in particular when Ragazza (Jacquelynne Fontaine) and Italiano (Glenn Seven Allen) are doing their bit as servants and all around handy dandy Italian lovers of the first degree, it soars. Both are fun to watch as they add some much needed zip, heat and sizzle to the overall picture as contrasted by the stilted encounters between Lucy and George.
The array of characters surrounding Lucy and Charlotte at the pensione include: The Reverend Mr. Beeber (Edward Staudenmayer is just wonderful as the judgmental Rev. who later does an about face and lets his hair down), the two Miss Alan’s (Will Reynolds and Etai BenShlomo add a bit of silly humor), a pair of spinster sisters and Miss Lavish/Mrs. Honeychurch (Gina Ferrall is perfect as the adventure writer). They will at some point or other have a hand in guiding Lucy to George and dumping Cecil.
Included also is George’s father Mr. Emerson (Kurt Zischke is perfectly suited as the outspoken socialist newspaperman and caring dad). It was he who is actually got the whole thing started between his son and Lucy by offering them ‘a room with a view’ at their guest house, when she and Charlotte complained that all they could see from their room was a brick wall with some scraggly vines growing on it.
We meet Lucy’s troublemaker brother Freddy (Etai BenShlomo) and her mother (Gina Ferrall back with a whole new look as Mrs. Honeychurch) back in Surrey in the second act, which is so drab compared to the lushness of Italy’s landscape.
Director Scott Schwartz has surely presented an almost finished product that is playful, well executed and beautifully staged with an overall talented cast. The biggest disappointment for yours truly was in the fact that the only chemistry I saw between the young lovers overall was in brother Freddy’s chemistry experiment, which by the way did manage a strong poof in one scene. Since the whole premise of this out of the box love affair is predicated on George and Lucy’s attraction to one another, it must at least appear credible to be credible.
Ms. Aardema presented to me a one-dimensional and rather unconvincing choice to portray a young girl whose one known passion it seems is Beethoven. (“Ludwig and I” is one of the many audience favorites). In a rather telling observation, the elder Mr. Emerson notes that if Miss Honeychurch takes to life as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.
Mr. Harris, while in fine voice, fit and youthful and who will surely appeal to the younger set, is too busy fretting about here and there to be taken seriously. The most convincing scenes on opening night were in the second act when he finally managed some strong passion both physically and emotionally. The on again/off again romance seemed to peak too fast for him, (“Something Tremendous”) almost going unnoticed in act one. From there both played catch up the rest of the evening.
Karen Ziemba’s old maid chaperone Charlotte is picture perfect as she frowns and pooh, pooh’s everything. Yet don’t underestimate, her big number “Frozen Charlotte” is another of the crowd pleasers suited just for Ms. Ziemba. Under the deft musical direction of Boko Suzuki and his 14-member ensemble with Bruce Coughlin’s orchestrations it is one of those numbers that just hit all the right marks.
Others that rocked the house on opening night included the ragtime number “Splash” that in turn led Freddy, George and the Good Reverend to strip to their altogether and take the proverbial dive into the backyard, on stage, pond. One might call that daring action another highlight of the evening! “The Carriage Ride” and Badminton game are other examples of those moments that bring out the creativity of the whole team.
Impressive as well are: Edward Staudenmayer, Etai BenShlomo, and Will Reynolds’ as the cad, Cecil who has own his moment in “The Trouble With People” as he snobbishly looks down his nose at Lucy and her middle class upbringing. Gina Ferrall, double cast as Mrs. Honeychurch and Mrs. Lavish is a hoot as both.
Throughout the evening thoughts of the 2005 Tony award winning “Light in The Piazza” and last year’s wonderful musical staged at The Old Globe, “Emma” came to mind. And while “Room” is spanking new and will require some cutting and pasting to catch up to the other two especially in the too long first act, only time will tell how it fares.
Cuts and revisions considered this ‘room’ could be a proper addition to an already full house of revisited romantic classic novels.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through April 15th
Organization: Old Globe Theatre
Production Type: Musical
Where: The Old Globe, Balboa Park, San Diego
Ticket Prices: $39.00 and up
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage