Romance, Romance - Landor Theatre 2015
Romance, Romance is two musicals for the price of one performed by the same cast in two distinct and unrelated halves. Based on two separate stories surrounding the same theme, we're presented with different perspectives from 19th Century Vienna to a cabin in The Hamptons in modern day, as both the 'little comedy' and 'romantic notions' are explored through a central relationship.
An unassuming and charming Broadway musical that was somewhat overshadowed in the 1988 season, competing at the Tony Awards with giants such as 'Phantom of the Opera' and 'Into The Woods', the piece feels more than comfortable in the fringe confines of the Landor's intimate setting. Here it fizzes with excitement and engages the audience firmly in the action, giving an acoustic delivery of a well-constructed and solidly moving score.
Rob McWhir delivers a well thought-out and expertly paced production using the full extremes of his venue, never over cluttering the stage and allowing the performers the freedom to cultivate each character effectively. He is aided by some outstanding lighting design by Richard Lambert who allows the small playing space to represent multiple locations throughout with minimum fuss, keeping the piece clean, slick and imaginative. I would have enjoyed more experimentation with the second couple during the first half, mainly to balance the tone and give a softer perspective on otherwise quite grating characters with whom it's difficult to latch onto.
Barry and Keith Herrmann's score is immediate, catchy and affecting in all the right places. Though the orchestration suffers somewhat in this context from a fringe reduction, the voices are, quite rightly, given centre stage to shine.
In the central roles of 'Josephine' and 'Monica', Emily Lynne is a revelation. Her effortless vocals are matched by her consistently intelligent performance that throws light and shade onto a rather two dimensional first act character and extends to a thoroughly modern performance in the second act. She handles the contrasts in tone, style and rhythm between the two characters with utter distinction and proves a match for Herrmann's sweeping score that blends 80s rock belt with lyrical quasi-operatic gestures. A delight to watch, she controls the stage throughout and instils confidence in both the piece and the production, subconsciously making herself the focal point of both pieces without ever overworking it.
She is aided particularly well in the second half by equally sensitive performances from Sinéad Wall as 'Barb' and Tom Elliot Reade as 'Lenny', who offer a refreshing contrast to the similarly self indulgent central characters and allow the audience to understand their modern dilemma. Wall's strong vocal delivery is complemented by her sympathetic performance, and her ability to connect with the audience drives the narrative situation.
As a musical, the first half takes some time to warm up. The epistolary form gets rather frustrating as you're disconnected to both the characters and their constant whining, and it's not until they've both taken their disguises as penniless lovers that you feel you can warm to them. The second act's more conversational book helps deliver contrast, and some subtle modern updates mean it's not stuck in the 80s, offering yet another period perspective.
This is an elegant and much-needed revival of a Broadway gem, faithfully delivered and fiercely well sung.