Do I Hear a Waltz?

| May 20, 2016

Do I Hear a Waltz?

New York City Center, NYC, May 12, 2016

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Richard Troxell and Melissa Errico  Photo: Joan Marcus

Richard Troxell and Melissa Errico
Photo: Joan Marcus

Do I Hear a Waltz? seemed fated for success. It was based on Arthur Laurents’ successful 1952 play, The Time of the Cuckoo, starring Shirley Booth, and a film, Summertime, with Katharine Hepburn. A Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim score was added in 1965 and the show became  Do I Hear A Waltz? This season, City Center Encores! revived the  musical with the Encores! sweeping overture, fine performances and an intriguing moral conflict.  Yet, while worth a visit, Do I Hear a Waltz? is not in the lexicon of memorable musical theater.

The story centers around Leona Samish (Melissa Errico), a conventional American lady in her 30s who knows a little something about sex, but nothing about love. Vacationing in Venice, Leona believes that when she finds the right man, the air around him will vibrate in waltz time. 

She arrives at a pensione run by Signora Fioria, enlivened with Karen Ziemba’s light-hearted, been-around-the-block amiability. Other guests include two couples, Claybourne Elder and Sarah Hunt as Eddie and Jennifer Yaeger, a young married couple who are not as perfect as they appear, and the McIlhennys (Richard Poe and Nancy Opel),  retired vacationers.  Leona is eager to befriend both couples, but they have their own plans.  They also have their own problems and, throughout the play, they display the various sides of grown-up love and marriage. 

Leona is left to explore the city with her young guide, Mauro (Zachary Infante). She meets a souvenir dealer, Renato di Rossi, played by opera tenor Richard Troxell—handsome, fascinating and ready to capture her heart. Alas, she soon learns he is married and is something of a con man. The restrained American head must confront the Italian heart. 

It was his head, not his heart, that brought hot young lyricist Sondheim to partner one time only with composer Rodgers, who was well past his prime. Sondheim had already tasted success with West Side Story and Gypsy [as lyricist only, and had a run with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with both music and words], but because his mentor had been Oscar Hammerstein II, Rodgers’ longtime partner who’d died in 1960, his close friend Mary Rodgers, the composer’s daughter, urged him to work with her father and Sondheim agreed to join Rodgers on this project.  On the plus side, he’d liked working with Arthur Laurents on West Side Story and Gypsy and the money was welcome. Nevertheless, the Sondheim-Rodgers union was not a pleasant collaboration. Sondheim called the show a “‘why’ musical”: Why add music where it is not called for? 

The score does reflect moments of the smart Sondheim snap and delightful Rodgers flair.  There are some effective character-driven songs, like Signora Fioria’s cynical “This Week Americans,” and later, the other side of the story, “Last Week Americans.” Outstanding is the young married Yaegers’ biting reconciliation duet, “We’re Gonna Be All Right,” after hubby’s fling with Signora Fioria. (“One day the ache is gone/There’s nothing like senility…We’re gonna be all right.”)

Lovely Melissa Errico portrays Leona with determination and enthusiasm, showing both the warm and the chilly sides of the American signorina. She is captivating with the dazzling title song (“Things are impossibly lyrical!/Is it me?/No it’s you!”). In his Broadway debut, Troxell, with a resonant tenor, stands out when he temptingly urges her to “Take This Moment” and celebrate la dolce vita. 

Bravo to Evan Cabnet who directed this Encores! production with a keen eye on romance, music, and beauty, showcasing Rob Berman and the Encores! splendid on-stage orchestra and providing special musical moments for each of the excellent performers. Anna Louizos’ set was picturesque with a vine-covered stone wall and backdrop of Venice with the romantic pastel aura of Ken Billington’s lighting. Paloma Young designed casual travel-perfect clothes reminiscent of the ’50s, and Chase Brock choreographed small groups and couples, strolling and gracefully dancing.

Just as Leona Samish did not really find true love in Italy, she’ll always remember Venice, which brought her “… something between/Ridiculous and sublime,”  which might describe what’s worthwhile in Do I Hear a Waltz? and what’s not.

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Category: Broadway Reviews, Musical Theatre Reviews, New York City, New York City Musical Theatre Reviews, Regional

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