'They're Playing Our Song' gets worthy showcase in Annapolis

February 25, 1994|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

There are dinner theater impresarios out there interested only in mounting the cheapest show possible for the largest tariff they think they can get away with.

But the Annapolis Dinner Theatre management, to its enduring credit, doesn't work that way. While others would do a slapdash job with the cast and sets of "They're Playing Our Song," the ADT version has been pieced together with loving care.

The Neil Simon story about the ups and downs of a boy-girl song writing team, with a talented cast directed by Roland Chambers, plays through April 30.

With a small cast and experienced leads, rehearsal time can be cut to a minimum, and staging demands can be negligible.

But creative energy, a love for the craft and, most of all, a respect for the material are in evidence at all times in this production.

"They're Playing Our Song" parallels the real-life relationship of its creators, composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sagar. The tone is aggressively 1970s. The humor is unmistakably Neil Simon. And the enjoyment level is admirably high.

Lyricist Sonia Walsk is a crazy co-dependent who can't end a defunct relationship to save her life. But she certainly succeeds in turning upside down the love life of Vernon Gersch, the Juilliard-trained composer who's had better luck garnering Oscars than in loving wisely or well. He's nervous about his new lyricist from the get-go.

"Two flakes are the beginning of a snowstorm," he says.

Hoo boy, did he get that right. But as these talented, emotional misfits drive each other bananas, they exorcise enough demons to make their personal collaboration become as meaningful as their artistic one. A nice premise, indeed.

Anita Patton is a delight as the neurotic Sonia, free-spirited enough to make you respect her and nutty enough to make you want to strangle her. But not while she's singing. Ms. Patton is as good as I've heard.

The remarkable David Reynolds, rubber face and all, projects exasperation and anger with the best of them as the composer.

Reynolds sings convincingly when he stays within himself, as he does in "If She Really Knew Me," but a little too much Elvis comes out when he goes after the title song.

Creative touches abound. The alter-ego sequences are cleverly done. The set looks marvelous.

Artistic integrity. Now that's playing my kind of song.

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