Old boy meets girl story still resonates as a witty musical

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Tony Award nominated ‘They’re Playing Our Song,’ now a Brown Paper Box production at Rivendell Theater, is a boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, have problems, split and get back-together-again story with a celebrity twist.

Dan Gold (Vernon) and Carmen Risi (Sonia) and company in "They're Playing Our Song." A Brown Paper Box Co. photo
Dan Gold (Vernon) and Carmen Risi (Sonia) and company in “They’re Playing Our Song.”
A Brown Paper Box Co. photo

With book by Neil Simon,  music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, the show is a witty, entertaining musical with such easy listening songs as “If He Really Knew Me,” “When You’re in My Arms,” “I Still Believe in Love,” and “They’re Playing Our Song.”

What oldsters may remember from when the show opened on Broadway in 1979 with Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, is that it is somewhat autobiographical about Hamlisch and Sager’s 1970’s relationship.

The show is about New York Grammy and Oscar award-winning pop music composer Vernon Gersch connecting with lyricist Sonia Walsk because he is looking for a collaborator.

They start off with problems because Sonia is bubbly but has trouble keeping appointments anywhere near on time and is very busy trying to break up with a long-time boyfriend, and Vernon is sarcastic, uptight and somewhat aloof.

They start to bond when on a “non date” proposed by Sonia they dance and hear the band play songs they wrote.

Problems Sonia has with ex boyfriend Leon eventually comes between them when she appears very late for a recording session and Vernon says he can’t take it any longer.

That they still have feelings for each other becomes evident when they reconnect in LA.

On the cute side, Sonia wears dresses used in shows given her by a stage friend. On the witty side, they are both neurotic so Simon has Vernon saying “She’s a flake, I’m a flake. Two flakes make a snowstorm.”

She is in awe of his composing talent but he is in awe of her bubbly personality. He remarks that if a power outage causes a blackout in New York the only light seen would be coming from her.

Sonia is perfectly portrayed by Carmen Risi who has acted in Oil Lamp and Citadel productions in the Chicago area and in Four Seasons productions in Madison, WI.

Dan Gold who is often in Mercury, Apollo, Porchlight and Light Opera Works  productions, is very believable as Vernon.

The two leads are totally convincing in their angst and attraction to each other.

My problem watching the show was with the Greek chorus of three females who are supposed to be in Sonia’s head and the three mails from Vernon’s head.

Even though they were talented singers and dancers, I found them distracting and sometimes annoying.

However, the leads are good enough and the show witty enough to make it a delightful evening out. To learn more about Carole Bayer Sager, see her 2016 book, “They’re Playing Our song: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster).

“They’re Playing Our Song” will be at Rivendell Theater, a small store front space at 5779 N. Ridge Ave., Chicago, now through Aug. 20, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Brown Paper Box.

 

 

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