With book, music and lyrics written by Gregg Coffin, Five Course Love was originally produced by Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY on June 16, 2004. It later ran Off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theatre in the fall of 2005. The show takes its name from five separate stories of romance, served up in five separate restaurants. Each of the stories bears the flavor of the restaurant in which it occurs.
For this production of Five Course Love director David Arisco has selected two Actor's Playhouse returnees, Janet Dacal and Oscar Cheda, as well as Christopher A. Kent, who now appears to be a staple at the theatre. All are able bodied performers assigned to the task of playing multiple roles in a musical revue with relatively little dialogue.
The show opens with Matt, a nice but nerdy single guy, on his way to meet a blind date at a restaurant. The opening scene, with its imaginary car, is over-indicating enough to have the feel of a children's theatre piece, despite the appeal of Christopher A. Kent as Matt. At the restaurant, Dean's Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats, Matt encounters sexy cowgirl, Barbie, in search of her Ken. Alas, Matt is no Ken, and so her search goes on. But before that, she and Matt, along with the restaurateur, Dean, share a few ditties. The best song from this section of the show is the titillating "Jumpin' the Gun." Janet Dacal as Barbie gives us a saucy taste of sex appeal.
At this point in the show the restaurant becomes the main character. The actors change costumes and characters to fit the needs of the new setting. Scenic designer Gene Seyffer surely had fun transforming his restaurant set in this and each of the scenes that follow, and these changes are enjoyable to watch. Dean's restaurant becomes Trattoria Pericolo, an Italian restaurant with stereotypical characters seemingly lifted out of "The Sopranos." Waiter Carlo slips through invisible crowds of customers, while Sofia, who is married to mobster Nicky, is having an affair with Gino. Just as she is on the verge of leaving her husband, Gino reveals he has only been using her to get to Nicky. It is safe to say that this course in the show is most unpalatable. The scene is clumsy and lengthy, and the music fails at any attempt to sound Italian in nature.
Trattoria Pericolo becomes Der Schlupfwinkel Speiseplatz, a German restaurant with a dark side, and costume designer Mary Lynne Izzo makes the most of dressing characters who are a cross between something from Cabaret and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A vinyl lederhosen-clad Oscar Cheda as Heimlich has to hold for costume entrance laughs at the top of this scene. He is soon joined by girlfriend Gretchen, a dominatrix version of Marlene Dietrich, complete with pointed bustier. They are joined by Klaus who has been sleeping with both of them. The trio is at its best in "Der Bumsen-Kratzentanz," and this section of the show seems best choreographed by long time Actors' Playhouse choreographer, Barbara Flatten. Janet Dacal as a whip-wielding Gretchen is wonderfully naughty in "No, Is a Word I Don't Fear" and waxes sentimental in "Gretchen's Lament" after losing the two men to each other.
The next course is served in Ernesto's Cantina, a Mexican restaurant with a rich history. Christopher A. Kent is at his funniest as Guillermo in the song "The Ballad of Guillermo." The concept of Guillermo comically correcting the errant narrative of his tale, as told by Ernesto, is a bit that bears repeating in other sections of the show. The remaining numbers of this section are visually and rhythmically fun, though musically forgettable. The two men go on to battle over the love of a beautiful senorita named Rosalinda. Of course she selects the hero of our tale, Guillermo.
Lights up on The Star-Lite Diner, a 1950s style restaurant straight out of "Happy Days" or Grease. A waitress named Kitty wears bobby sox and horn-rimmed glasses. She moons over jean jacket clad Clutch, who doesn't know she exists. Kindly restaurant owner Pops knows her true love is just around the corner. Suddenly, Matt from our first scene, walks into The Star-Lite Diner. Matt and Kitty lock eyes, and instantly fall in love as Pops dons Cupid wings and throws flower petals over all. The 1950s feel of the music is very pleasant here and provides an uplifting ending to the show.
There is no connecting thread between the characters in these five stories or similarities in the relationships as hand. Kent and Dacal have an enormous volume of music to sing that is at times thankless. Though Oscar Cheda is capable of selling a ballad, one would not know it as his characters handle mostly musical patter and comedy. The lighting by Patrick Tennent is off. There are dark spots and shadows even on this small upstairs stage. The staging plays too strongly front and center, leaving those on the sides guessing at rather than experiencing the pictures forming on stage. While the music is decently played and directed, it simply is not that well written. This is a flawed show seasoned with enjoyable moments here and there.
Five Course Love will appear at Actors' Playhouse through June 4, 2006. The theatre is located at 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, FL. Actors' Playhouse is a nonprofit professional regional theatre hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. The theatre has received nearly 50 Carbonell Awards, and received 32 nominations for its past 2005 - 2006 season. Actor's Playhouse produces musicals, comedies and children's theatre shows year round, and offers a full range of classes for all experience levels. Information and tickets may be obtained by contacting the theater at their box office at (305) 444-9293, or on line at www.actorsplayhouse.org.
* Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Photo: Ruben Romeau