Adsense for search

Custom Search

Monday, May 5, 2014

A "VIEW" YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS— Review of "A ROOM WITH A VIEW" at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre

The company of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit Tracy Martin

The curtains parted on opening night of “A Room With a View” and drew the audience into a street scene in an Italian city over a hundred years ago, a scene of classical architecture, the warmth of Mediterranean light, and a realistic backdrop of sky textured with clouds. It seemed like a Maxfield Parrish painting—aglow with rich hues, exquisite detail, grandeur, and luminosity. Rather than appearing on the artist’s canvas, however, it was on the stage of The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, where this new musical—based on the E.M. Forster’s novel by the same name—runs through Sunday, May 11, loaded with the best of local talent.

I fell in love at first sight, and I stayed in love, even though I had to be openminded enough to accept a few less-than-perfect aspects as it went along.

A Room With a View” takes place in 1908. The first act is set in Florence, Italy during the spring of that year and the second act in Surrey, England, during the summer that followed. It’s the tale of a young English woman, Lucy Honeychurch (Laura Griffith) who has been brought up as a proper lady, a member of the privileged class, and is betrothed to an even more proper, prissy, and very well-to-do young English gentleman named Cecil Vyse (Will Reynolds). 

The company of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit: Tracy Martin
Lucy goes on a trip to Italy with her elder cousin Charlotte Bartlett (Patti Cohenour), who acts as chaperone, and there she can’t help falling in love with George Emerson (Louis Hobson). He, too, is an English tourist on holiday, in this case with his father, Mr. Emerson (Allen Fitzpatrick). The father wishes his son would live more "in the moment" and encourages him to pursue Lucy and with her make the most of the Italian experience. They all share the same hotel, as do some other interesting characters, such as a dramatic and charming novelist named Miss Lavish (Suzy Hunt) and The Reverend Mr. Beeber (Richard Gray). 

l-r George Emerson (Louis Hobson) and Mr. Emerson (Allen Fitzpatrick) in the premiere of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit Mark Kitaoka
As the story begins, Mr. Emerson offers to trade rooms with Lucy and Charlotte so they can enjoy the view, since they have none and care about it more than he and his son do. However, the Emersons belong to a lower social class. They are therefore considered unsuitable company and their kind offer is deemed inappropriate. Suitable company or not, away from the restraints of English society in the freer atmosphere of Italy, Lucy and George do get to know each other, both realizing what it means to give in to love, to live fully and freely. Consequently, the come to face the true nature of their hearts’ desires.

l-r Reverend Beeber (Richard Gray), Lucy Honeychurch (Laura Griffith), and Mrs. Lavish (Suzy Hunt) in the premiere of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit Tracy Martin
Just as Parrish’s paintings feature both the clarity of realism and dreaminess of fantasy, this musical has its own contrasts beyond the obvious comparison of two very different places and societies. Most of us can relate to a scenario of finding oneself at a crossroad in life where choices must be made, opportunities taken or lost, and gut-wrenching decisions between doing what is expected or following the heart must be made, all the while knowing the path of one's life will be altered forever. The musical had that true-to-life quality, but at the same time, it presented a mix of characters both as real and unreal as a Parrish painting. Some were distinctive, complex, and memorable individuals, and some parts seemed to be written as stereotypical and flat. In spite of truly excellent acting, they just lacked depth. Or maybe I'm asking too much of musical theater.

We’ve all met, in books or movies, versions of Cecil and his snobby, aristocratic mother, Mrs. Vyse (also play by Suzy Hunt, one of my favorite Seattle actresses). The Italians in this musical are also, for the most part, stereotyped—some might say offensively so. Most men on the street are presented as a danger to respectable women and likely to rob or assault. One even commits murder. Whereas the English place the highest value on appearances and propriety, the Italian couple we see again and again—played by Jadd Davis and Jenny Shotwell, can’t keep their hands off each other, even in public, and seem to care far more for operatic singing and making love than making a living. Yet part of Lucy is fascinated by their lifestyle and passionate romance, even as she rejects them socially for their lack of refinement.

Speaking of Davis and Shotwell, their singing was one of the highlights of this musical, along with Griffith’s truly amazing voice and Hobson’s fine vocal talents as well. In fact, all of the singing delighted me, even if not all the melodies did. However, my husband and others we spoke with had trouble understand the lines. One woman from the audience said if she had not read the book, she would not know what was going on.

Lucy Honeychurch (Laura Griffith) and George Emerson (Louis Hobson) in the premiere of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit: Tracy Martin
Although I enjoyed the music, ome of the compositions seemed to have a lot going on but without really saying much. On our drive back to Tacoma, my husband and I discussed how only a few songs seemed memorable, like the lighthearted “Splash” and Charlotte’s lament, “Failed, Failed, Failed.” They were the only ones I could still hear in my head, not the more romantic numbers. If I could buy this soundtrack, I’m not sure I would, even though the orchestra and vocalists performed with great skill and finesse. I 

The stage sets and lighting, however, will stay in my memory for a long, long time. They were exquisite, with special effects, like rain falling through a leak in the roof and lightning in the night sky, equal to anything I’ve seen at this theater. I loved the costumes too. The whole package provided the kind of rich experience only The 5th Avenue can offer, but it felt so different, more like opera than a musical. Part of that was because it had only minimal dancing. In spite of missing my desired quota of that staple of musical theater, I was still quite charmed by the whole thing.

l-r Freddy Honeychurch (Matt Owen), Reveren Beeber (Richard Gray) and George Emerson (Louis Hobson) decide to take a dip in the premiere of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit Mark Kitaoka
As many people have heard, the show does contain male nudity—a swimming scene in a pond with real water—but it is handled discreetly and with the innocence of kids playing at the old watering hole on a summer afternoon. It's one of several delightful scenes in which Lucy's younger brother, Freddy Honeychurch (Matt Owen) shows his vivacious, irresistible personality (and in this case, more.) I even took my copy of Forster’s novel off the shelf when I came home, to compare. This production’s version of that scene felt true to the original and much more about casting off the restraints of society, and feeling free, than casting off clothing for sexual reasons. 

Louis Hobson and Laura Griffith star as George Emerson and Lucy Honeychurch in the premiere of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit: Mark Kitaoka
“A Room With a View,” like the novel that inspired it, has been called “romantic comedy” but that label didn’t quite feel right to me. It did contain good humor, but I never found myself laughing out loud. It seemed just a bit too serious to be truly funny and too funny to be serious, even though it had a serious message. In fact, that message was my favorite aspect of the the show. It spoke of the basic, essential, human needs to love and be loved and to live a genuine life. E.M. Forster’s characters are only in heterosexual relationships, but as a gay man reaching adulthood around the turn of the last century, he must have drawn material from his own yearning for a lifelong romantic relationship with a true love of his choice, a yearning never fulfilled.

I recommend “A Room With a View” for all the things I loved about it. It not only entertained, but was engaging, thoughtful, well directed, and visually stunning. I cared about the characters and worried about whether or not they would make the right decisions or end up haunted by regrets. I left feeling good, happy, satisfied and rewarded for my time. I believe you will too. You only have until May 11 to experience this show, so don’t miss the opportunity. 

For your convenience, here is a link to the online box office. Enjoy the show.

If you enjoy Good Life Northwest, please "like" it on Facebook. Thanks!

No comments: