Richard and I saw this play on Broadway on 4/6. It’s written by Joe Di Pietro, based on the play *Peccadillo* by Garson Kanin. We needed to see the play because it was starring Renée Fleming, star of the opera stage, the titular heroine of the Met’s recent *Merry Widow*, America’s Soprano! She did the play in Williamstown last summer with an eye on a Broadway run. She’s a singer of a certain age - - I’ll borrow a phrase from my friend Ethlouise: she’s on her way down the mountain. It’s a smart move for her to diversify her brand.
The setting is a sumptuous New York City apartment, sometime in the 1950s. A young man has been hired to ghost write the memoir of a temperamental Italian conductor, who is married to an opera singer. The writer is an admirer of the diva and ends up switching camps to write HER memoir. The publishing house sends over a young woman to find out what’s going on, and wouldn’t you know, she ends up ghost-writing the conductor’s memoir. The married couple fans the flames of idolatry from the youngsters, the youngsters fall for each other, the married couple fall into each other’s arms with a greater love and appreciation for each other. In a plot this old and tired, do I really have to worry about spoilers?
The play has two or three moments where the diva talks about her voice and career being on the decline. The audience was silent, you could tell they were tapping into the extra level of meaning, in Fleming expressing those concerns. The first time was funny - - she said (I’m paraphrasing): “I look out in the theater and I see empty seats. And those seats speak to me - - they say, ‘Raquel, have you lost the magic? Does the public no longer hear what they’ve loved all these years? Is the day at hand when you will be…a MEZZO.’ ”
Renée sang more than I thought she would - - a roulade here and there, the Irving Berlin song “Always” at the end of the show, and a big chunk of Mimi’s “Addio” aria from *La Bohème*. She sounded great in her singing. Her dialogue was a little too mannered, which is a criticism I often have of her singing, so that’s no surprise. She seemed to relax as the show went on.
Jerry O’Connell played the young man. I know him best for playing the chubby kid in *Stand By Me*, but he’s grown up to be a hunky yet goofy leading man type, in *Scream 2* and the underrated *Piranha 3D*. He took his shirt off in one scene, and I’m not complaining about that. He did a good job in this, but was working a little too hard. Anna Chlumsky played the young woman - - she played the same part in *You Can’t Take It With You*. She was better in that, because the material was so much better. Like O’Connell, she was trying too hard. She kept her shirt on.
There were two butlers in the show, played by Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson. They delivered the cutest moment in the show, an adorable performance of “Makin’ whoopee”, sung, danced, and four-handed on the piano by the two of them. Priceless, adorable. But it was a cheap bit, at the end of the show, for them to turn out to be a couple, and kiss each other. Of course the audience would “Aw!” and chuckle, but I just shook my head and rolled my little eyes.
The best performance in the show was by Douglas Sills as the conductor. His Italian accent was a little labored, he was smoking a little too often (though, notably, never when Renée was onstage), and, like everyone else, was trying a little too hard. But he had two moments that were absolute theatrical gold, both moments straight out of The Carol Burnett Show. At one point he was in a tizzy and rushed over to the piano - - he knocked over a chair and one of the finials was knocked off the top of the chair. He spent what felt like a full minute trying to re-attach the finial, it was a riot. Even better, later in the show he threw a tantrum, rushed over to the turntable, took the LP off and smacked it against the table. And the record didn’t break. The audience laughed. He looked at the LP, looked at the other people in the room, looked at the audience. He milked that moment like an expert cowhand, and the audience was screaming with laughter. Then, at just the right moment, he smacked it against the table again, and this time it broke. We nearly gave him a standing ovation.