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A CurtainUp Review
Encores! does Do I Hear a Waltz?
By Elyse Sommer
While the scripts in hand format is intact and rehearsal time is still short, the scripts have been more a prop than a necessity while the production values have often been ratcheted up. Case in point the current, and last of the season, revival of Do I Hear a Waltz? But besides some sophisticated production values and choreography, at least for an Encores! show, this revival is a reminder to those who've come to view these productions as test runs for Broadway transfers that the Encores! are mainly intended as a memory trip down musical misses as well as hits — a history lesson to better understand a show's triumphs and tribulations.
When it first arrived on Broadway in 1965, Do I Hear a Waltz? certainly had all the earmarks of a hit. The book was based on Arthur Laurents's 1952 play The Time of the Cuckoo, which was both a stage and screen hit. The music was by superstar composer Richard Rodgers and the lyrics by a young but already recognized up and comer Stephen Sondheim. The problem was that Rodgers and Sondheim were not as ideal a match as Rodgers and Hart and Rodgers and Hammerstein had been. Worse yet, the men's being at different stages of their careers — the 62-year-old Rodgers was in his end run while the 34-year-old Sondheim was on the verge of revolutionizing what musical theater could do and how to do it. The result was an okay but so-so one-time collaboration that closed after 200 performances and never seen in New York again until now.
Given Sondheim's sophisticated lyrics and music still with us and describing Do I Hear a Waltz? as a "not a bad show, merely a dead one," in his recently published Finishing the Hat, the Encores! revival is a fascinating theatrical history lesson. A chance to see how and why the mis-match of these musical theater legends affected their one and only collaboration. . .to see whether even less than their top-of-the-line work is worth a second look. Thanks to a solid cast headlined by the lovely to look at and listen to Melissa Errico and opera singer Richard Troxell, it is indeed.
Granted, its appeal is mostly for musical theater aficianados interested in spotting nuggets of musical gold in Rodgers' songs and precursors of the Sondheim sophistication that came to full fruition with Company and Follies. A young theater goer who's never seen a Rodgers composed show, would find the current revival of The King and I a morerewarding experience. The historic setting of that show also makes for a more durable book than Laurent's book about seven people representing different aspects of hopeful, happy, unhappy and cynical coupledom, hasn't aged especially well.
Despite the book's showing its age, the Encores! cast beautifully captures the various personalities and relationships and manages to make us see what made Rodgers such a fine composer, and see hints of Sondheimian's magical cynicism, notably the title song and the unhappy Eddie and Jennifer Yeager's "We're Going to be All Right." All except Richard Troxell are musical theater veterans and are at the top of their game. But if anyone can be said to steal the show it's Troxell. He's not matinee idol handsome, but attractive enough to charm the Errico's Leona and us. And his lyric tenor makes you glad director and concert adapter Evan Cabnet has given him plenty of chances to shine. He's also a terrific actor.
The excellent cast and the as always fine playing by the orchestra notwithstanding, the scene to scene entrances and exits lack the fluidity we've come to expect from the Encores! musicals. That also applies to Chase Brock's choreographed interludes.
When all is said and done Do I Hear a Waltz? goes counter to Mr. Sondheim's dubbing it "not a bad show but a dead one." Yes, it's dead in terms of expecting it to have another, more successful life on Broadway, but it does commendably fulfill the Encores! mission of giving people interested in musical theater to evaluate what makes some shows fly and others fizzle.