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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Living on Love
Williamstown Theatre Festival



Living on Love, featuring renowned soprano Renee Fleming taking on, for the first time in an illustrious career, a major role which is non-operatic, just gets better and better, especially during its playful second act. Fleming seems perfectly at home as she performs with stage actors who are, to a person, upper quality. The production continues at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts, through July 26th.

Author Joe DiPietro and director Kathleen Marshall collaborated to present Nice Work If You Can Get It on Broadway. Now, they pair once again by working from Garson Kanin's script for Peccadillo and applying signature changes and touches.

The Kanin play occurs in the mid-1980s but DiPietro and Marshall (each of whom are multiple Tony Award winners) shift to spring 1957, and we are faced with a penthouse Manhattan interior. It sometimes feels, watching the antics unfold, like a screwball comedy out of yet another earlier time, perhaps even the 1930s. This is all good fun!

Fleming plays an opera star named Raquel, quite full of herself, comfortable when she or anyone else calls her "Diva," and a bit stressed: she knows that high notes could sooner rather than later become a problem and that mezzo assignments might be ominously looming. Fleming gets more than occasional opportunities to sing and she demonstrates a delectably rich voice. Raquel's husband Vito (Douglas Sills) is ever the bumbling, self-important "Maestro." His ludicrous envy of Leonard Bernstein is an obvious hoot and a half. Vito, too, is quite steadfast and is announcing and pontificating when it comes to his own celebrity. Each of the stars (who do not get along) wishes to have an autobiography composed. Naturally, ghostwriters illuminate the plot. (Vito never gets it right as he refers to such people as spooky or something like that ...)

Robert Samson (Justin Long) is there, at first, to help Vito, but moves over, so to speak, toward Raquel to assist her instead. Iris Peabody (Anna Chlumsky) arrives soon after Vito, anticipating that a new sweet young thing will become his author, slicks down his hair with some maple syrup. When he attempts to embrace her, Iris gets it: "Vermont," she says.

Making notable appearance together on stage, sometimes singing, even playing four-hands piano, and bringing good-will, charm, and delectable humor, are servants Bruce (Blake Hammond) and Eric (Scott Robertson). Director Marshall does well to afford them significant moments and the show is fully a six person ensemble piece.

Designer Derek McLane provides a New York City apartment complete with Victorian furniture, a black grand piano, many books and photographs. Michael Krass's outfits reflect the era beautifully. The elements are all in place.

During opening sequences, Living on Love feels just too cornball to be palatable and true. It takes a short while to comprehend the deliberate absurdity of it all. Hence, camp comedy reigns supreme. Fleming's Raquel often totes a dog named Puccini (also dressed for one occasion) with her. Really.

Sills' Vito strikes one, early on, as just such a major jerk. No wonder he has issues with those about him. Sills, ridiculous Italian accent and all, holds onto his character for more than two hours and, frankly, probably makes this look easier than it actually is. Fleming, during the middle of the current run, seems quite at ease. Her timing is excellent, too. Her debut, within this genre, is most successful.

It is not surprising that Robert and Iris, who play the ghostwriters, should fall for one another. Actors Chlumsky and Samson are youthful and appealing: why not? Servants Bruce and Eric, as their time on stage increases, steal spotlights.

In all, Living on Love (think about that title) is pleasant, diverting, and even, as the final curtain beckons, cute. DiPietro and Marshall clearly work smoothly as a team.

Living on Love continues on the main stage as part of Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts through July 26th, 2014. For tickets, call (413) 597-3400 or visit wtfestival.org.


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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