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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
A Legendary Romance
A clever pastiche of film noir and stage melodrama, the story begins in 1994 as McCarthy's Joseph Lindy, a well-known film director of the ‘50s, is previewing a once-abandoned autobiographical film, which the audience sees simultaneously. It purports to tell the real story behind Lindy's complicated relationship with Lora Lee Gayer's Billie Hathaway and the mystery surrounding their break-up along with a subsequent murder.
Lindy is outraged by the liberties taken as manipulative producer (Maurice Jones) tries to make a scandal out of Lindy and Hathaway's life together. Jones' problem is that when the film was made he assumed that Lindy was already dead. Lindy is not buying Jones' excuses or financial enticements and insists that the story be corrected according to his own memory. And that's where the back and forth with time and memory begins.
This all unfolds on an expensively designed art deco set by James Noone which serves as a sumptuous Hollywood home or agent's office or whatever it needs be via use of a turntable, silent swivel doors, smoke and a large movie screen which provides scenes a la Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo; the actors in the film speak directly to Lindy while he views and objects to the veracity of the scenes he witnesses.
Locked in battle with the film's producer, Lindy's memory begins the retelling of his and Hathaway's love story. Smitten by the vivacious ingenue who nervously auditions, Lindy, in spite of an age difference, develops professional interest in as well as deep love for Hathaway. Soon they are engaged, but, of course, that is when evil rears its ugly head in the shape of the HUAC's hunt for communists within the entertainment community.
To solve the problem Lindy hires a young wannabe Vincent Connor (Hartrampf) which leads to even worse problems as Connor attempts to usurp everything dear to Lindy including Hathaway.
The story line is noirish so perhaps that makes some of the melodrama acceptable in light of its 50's plot contrivances. However some of the plot development seems implausible in spite of the need for the willing suspension of disbelief required in the theater world.
The first act is about an hour and needs editing and the second act at thirty-five minutes needs to have some of the story line plumped out. For example, the final argument between the couple is too brief and reaches an overly dramatic crescendo too fast to be believable. Later on when Lindy discovers the truth about Hathaway's situation, three months have already passed. One week maybe, but by three months the word about a once famous actress would be, at the very least, in the tabloids. Little things like that just don't ring true and hinder the vividness of the story telling.
Jeff McCarthy's voice is always wonderful, but he has been directed to be a little too youthfully goofy in his dealings with Gayer's more mature Hathaway. Still he is solid as the handsome mercurial Lindy and always a pleasure to watch. Why he has to move furniture is another question for director Price. It does not work in a large scale production.
Though she is glamorous and talented, Gayer's powerful voice and demeanor seem suited to musical comedy rather than 50's languorous black and white noir for which Hathaway is purportedly famous. The stunning costumes by Tracy Christensen emphasize her beauty and scream 50's chic. Every detail of each outfit is perfection.
Roe Hartrampf is excellent as Vincent O'Connor, the engaging gate-crashing- nobody who soon reveals himself to be just another smarmy, fast-talking Hollywood power broker.
Lonny Price's direction creates some beautiful stage pictures and given more input he could probably make much more of what is a promising beginning in this play about regret and redemption. Timothy Prager's book needs to be doctored to move seamlessly and to keep the audience in sync with the sometimes tiresome and convoluted time travel and the inconsistencies.
Geoff Morrrow's music and lyrics have some outstanding numbers, such as "You Didn't Call, You Didn't Write" and "The Things I Never Said." A funny number "Me?" defines Hathaway's insecurities and inability to compete with such actresses as Bette Davis and Betty Grable.
Dramatic lighting by Robert Wierzel and Kai Harada's sound design contribute to the excellent production elements and actually help make some of the plot manipulations succeed. But they should underscore rather than replace.
This newly hatched musical has redeeming qualities and despite flaws the production has a story to tell. For theater lovers, watching the birth of an intriguing work in progress is always thrilling. It could be an opportunity to say "I saw it when..."
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A Legendary Romance
Music and Lyrics by Geoff Morrow
Book by Timothy Prager
Directed by Lonny Price
Cast: Jeff McCarthy (Joseph Lindy) Maurice Jones (Producer) Lora Lee Gayer (Billie Hathaway) Jose-Maria Aguila (Mendez) Roe Hartrampf (Vincent Connor) Trevor Guyton (Delivery Man)
Music direction and orchestrations: Charlie Rosen
Scene design: James Noone
Costume design: Tracy Christensen
Lighting design: Robert Wierzel
Sound design: Kai Harada
Wig and hair designers: David Bova and J. Jared Janas
Stage Manager: Lindsey Turtletaub
Running Time: Two hours, one intermission
Williamstown Theatre Festival Main Stage, Williamstown, MA
From 8/3/17; closing 8/20/17
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at August 6 performance
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