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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Do I Hear A Waltz?
Park Theatre  March  2014

We have to begin, unfortunately, by acknowledging that this 1965 musical was not a creative success, despite its extraordinary pedigree – book by Arthur Laurents, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. 

It failed on Broadway, it did not produce any songs with life outside the show, it has not generated the sort of cult fan base that other initial flops (like, say, Jerry Herman's Mack & Mabel) have, and Sondheim himself has all but disowned it, calling it 'not a bad show, merely a dead one . . . that has no reason for being'. 

So it would be unfair to judge a revival on the limitations of the raw material. Rather, the questions to ask about this new production from Charles Court Opera are whether it finds and best displays what charms the material does have. And it is something of a hit-and-miss affair.

Laurents' book, based on his earlier play, shows an American woman among other tourists in Venice. She has a very brief romance with a married Italian, but can't accept his casual attitude toward both sex and commerce. 

As the innocent abroad, Rebecca Seale's singing voice is a bit thin, but she does have the considerable virtue of crystal-clear enunciation, particularly apparent when almost everyone else in the cast buries Stephen Sondheim's lyrics in muddy diction. 

Seale also brings an attractive energy to the comic and dramatic scenes – perhaps too much so, because she and director John Savournin, working from clues in the text, make it clear that her character is no virginal spinster. The boss's secretary back home, she has had her share of salesmen courting her to get to him. 

This gives added piquancy to her surrender to the romantic spirit of Venice, but it makes a hash of the plot demand that she be shocked by her Italian lover being married and having a partly commercial interest in wooing her. 

As the Italian Philip Lee is appropriately romantic but makes the operatically-trained singer's error of oversinging all his songs, pushing them so hard that he paradoxically makes Richard Rodgers' melodies seem thin and in need of help – his big number, 'Take The Moment', comes across unfairly as a weak imitation of 'Some Enchanted Evening'. 

Director Savournin and choreographer Damian Czarnecki move the cast around the stage in attractive ways, Rosie Strobel may push a little too hard as the earthy Italian hotelier but does bring some needed comic energy, and no one else in the cast particularly registers. 

There are a couple of other strong Rodgers tunes, in the title song and 'Here We Are Again', but Stephen Sondheim toned down his customary verbal razzle-dazzle as out of place in this context, so few of the lyrics (those we can hear clearly) have any particular flavour, though 'Moon In My Window' has some haunting imagery.

In short, then, I suspect that even an ideal production of this show would be a disappointment, and there is too much that is less than ideal here to make this attractive to many beyond those looking to fill a gap in their Rodgers or Sondheim experience.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review -  Do I Hear A Waltz? - Park Theatre  2014

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