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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Decorative A Room With A View
Still Needs Some Refurnishing

5th Avenue Theatre


Matt Owen, Richard Gray and Louis Hobson
No question about it, the new musical version of E.M Forster's novel (and the likely better known Merchant-Ivory film version starring Helena Bonham Carter) A Room With A View is being given a sumptuous physical production at 5th Avenue Theatre, and a cast of ideal Broadway vets and Seattle stalwarts under David Armstrong's steady, stately direction are as accomplished as any I've seen on Broadway (and should go part and parcel to New York if the show ends up there). But the tale which takes place in both Italy and England circa 1908 meanders too long at 2 and 1/2 hours, feels unbalanced as its dreamier more sober-sided first act yields to a splashier, funnier act two.

Composer/lyricist Jeffrey Stock (whose under-rated Triumph of Love score I admired whole-heartedly) shows off his melodic gifts abundantly in many of the numbers, whether influenced by opera or musical comedy techniques, and book-writer/adapter Marc Acito succeeds by developing a less whiny and grating version of troubled heroine Lucy Honeychurch (credit is also due to star Laura Griffith) than what Miss Bonham Carter presented in the film. However, the team also makes a misstep by creating numbers that sound and play like facsimiles from other literate musicals such as A Little Night Music, My Fair Lady and Ragtime.

For those non-Forster or Merchant-Ivory fans, the story of A Room With A View onstage takes the prim but emotionally yearning Lucy Honeychurch (Miss Griffith), her starchy and over-zealous guardian Charlotte (the most amusing and vocally stunning Patti Cohenour) and fussy Reverend Beeber (the show-stealing Richard Gray) out of their native British countryside abode and on a memorable vacation trip to Italy, where the far more relaxed conventions and sexually unrepressed attitudes both shock and allure the Brits. Lucy, though engaged to the tweedy and foppish Cecil (Will Reynolds), is attracted to fellow U.K. traveler George Emerson (Louis Hobson), whose kind-hearted, health-challenged father (Allen Fitzpatrick) offers to swap his room with a view with the ladies at the pensione where they are all staying. An Italian countryside jaunt turns into a series of revelations and misadventures for the Brits, a plucky and free-spirited lady novelist Miss Lavish (Suzy Hunt), and a handsome Italian driver and his girl (Jadd Davis and Jenny Shotwell in fine operatic form). A passionate kiss between Lucy and George during a rainstorm leads the confused young lady to head back home to Windy Corner, England.

The far more comic act two gives us our first lingering look at the insufferable Cecil and his harridan of a Mother (Miss Hunt in a dual role), and Lucy's free-spirit charmer of a brother Freddy (Matt Owen). Unknowingly, Cecil invites the also returned George and his father to the Honeychurch estate, and Freddy takes both George and Beeber to a nearby pond where the trio ends up romping in delight and in the all-together (the most famous scene from the film). A copy of a novel by Miss Lavish arrives, and its thinly veiled fictionalization of Lucy and George's Italian encounter plays into the ultimate wrap-up of the tale.

The sprightly opening company number "The Pleasure's Mine" (which replaced an earlier opening number in late previews), a fine title number solo for Fitzpatrick, and another ensemble piece "Music of the Street" are highlights of act one, as are Cohenour's self-chastising "Failed, Failed, Failed" and George and Lucy's pulsating duet "Let It Rain", but several other numbers are dispensable as plot drivers in a show that could stand to be trimmed 20 minutes or so (and, please, not quite so many Italian lyrics that are not translated). Room could also use more spoken word to tell us why we should care about Lucy and George (apart from Hobson and Griffith's earnest and committed performances). Act two kicks off with three great numbers: "Sixes and Sevens," which sets up the new locale in England; the Cecil led "The Trouble With People," which Reynolds sells to perfection; and best of all, the ragtime rouser "Splash" for the pond scene. The show closes with a lovely summation of what has gone before, "There is A Yes."

There is a great deal of quality here and, as I cannot underscore enough, the cast is worthy and winning, with special shout outs to the always humorous Gray, the twinkly eyed Owen, and Hunt's wily novelist, a performance so special she ought to have a solo of her own. Owen's interplay with the captivating Cohenour is as savory as their two-handed brilliance as the Beales in last season's Grey Gardens.

Walt Spangler's immense and take your breath away beautiful scenic designs threaten to overwhelm the material, yet somehow don't, with an exquisitely complimentary light design by Tom Sturge and Deb Trout's handsome turn of the century costumes. Musical director Ian Eisendrath leads a vibrant orchestra, and composer Stock's musical arrangements are quite accomplished. With all the hard work I know was done to this show by the team here, I encourage the writers to keep at it just a bit longer. A Room With A View could occupy Broadway for a while to come with just a few cosmetic touches.

A Room With A View runs through May 11, 2014, at The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle. For tickets or more information call 206-625-1900 or go to www.5thavenue.org.


Photo: Mark Kitaoka



- David Edward Hughes



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