They're Playing Our Song
book by Neil Simon
music by Marvin Hamlisch; lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager
directed by Lonny Price
Reprise Theatre Company @ The Freud Playhouse, UCLA
through October 10
It's the late 70s. Oversized mockup stereo speakers adorn both sides of the Freud stage as part of the set for They're Playing Our Song. At opening curtain Jason Alexander enters, not to start the scene, but to give the downbeat as conductor of the overture. The back part of the set that serves as a window and skyline of New York City converts to a screen and the audience is treated to a retrospective slide show of 70s pop culture. Redford and Newman, Sonny and Cher, Lee Majors and Farrah, Ron Howard and Henry Winkler as Fonzie, Charlie's Angels...the list goes on. A fun and flavorful beginning to a wonderfully nostalgic evening of theatre that marks the first production of Reprise's 14th season.
Alexander (composer Vernon Gersch) and Stephanie J. Block (lyricist Sonia Walsk) make magic as they create two very real people in a relationship based on that of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. He is a sensitive soul who still keeps on display the bathroom towels monogrammed with his ex-girlfriend's initials. Was she worth it? She slept with him but hated his music. Sonia is a crazed and mixed-up but caring creature who just cannot seem to break off a failing relationship with her neurotic boyfriend Leon - though he never appears, he becomes a vivid third character in the play. Vernon and Sonia become work partners and start to unconventionally fall for each other. This relationship is as rocky as a roller coaster ride, and that, as a real slice of life, makes it funny and totally endearing. Alexander makes Vernon frustrated and bewildered, but thoroughly likeable.
Block is nothing short of amazing. Her Sonia is flighty yet sensible. Very intelligent except when it comes to love. She is a woman that cares too much. Her second act "If You Remember Me?" proves her worth as a stunning actress. Within it she captures every emotional nuance of Sonia's deep longings and fears.
What makes the play tick is the continued collaboration of Hamlisch and Sager, who have added two songs to the score from other projects "One Hello", a great finale, and the aforementioned "...Remember me?" There's also a brand new tune "Leon". As well as the two leads six boys and girls make up a chorus of alter egos. That's right, dressed identically, there are three more Sonias: Christa Jackson, Jamey Hood and Sylvia MacCalla and three more Vernons: Christopher Zenner, Dennis Kyle and Daniel Guzman. They rock!
Set pieces by John Iacovelli and costumes by Kate Bergh are bright and put us smack dab in the psychedelic 70s. Josh Rhodes' zippy choreography and above all, Lonny Price's priceless vision and dynamite pacing make this Song a sheer delight from start to finish. This is great musical theatre not to be missed!