Sunday, November 17, 2013

Boca Raton Theatre Guild: They're Playing Our Song (reviews)

The Boca Raton Theatre Guild opened its production of They're Playing Our Song on November 8, 2013.
Composer Marvin Hamlisch's energetic disco score, New York setting and funny script by Neil Simon is our first main-stage musical of the season.

They’re Playing Our Song will star Carbonell Award winners Margot Moreland and Oscar Cheda as fictional counterparts to the real-life romance between Hamlisch and  lyricist Carol Bayer-Sager.
Keith Garsson directed a cast that included Oscar Cheda, Margot Moreland, David Berry, Lindsey Johr, Jamie Leigh, Chelsea Lee, George Macia, and Micah Scroggins and Nate Lauar.
Bill Hirschman
reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
You know what’s not fair? Speaking from a selfish audience point of view, it’s not fair that Margot Moreland and Oscar Cheda don’t get cast enough on South Florida stages. We deserve more.
Just watching these actors joyfully singing the title song – portraying a composer and lyricist recognizing their big hits playing on a restaurant’s loudspeaker – is the kind of entertainment that gives you a vicarious buzz. Cheda’s eyes pinch into a delighted squint and Moreland simply glows in a number that is infectious.
They’re Playing Our Song is a late entry in the category of old time musicals, a frothy frippery with a bit of heart and a lot of polish skillfully applied by experienced professionals. Other than the title tune, few people remember any of the score ten minutes after the curtain falls, other than a fond recollection of a procession of solid numbers wrought by talented tunesmiths.

What is essential with these shows, more than most, is that the lead actors must be engaging, winning people the audience can fall in love with. Fortunately, director Keith Garsson has wisely hired Moreland and Cheda.
Cheda has a full expressive sound that delivers these songs far better than the original actor on Broadway, Robert Klein. He has a slightly woebegone look that served him well in his Carbonell-winning performance as the nebbishy protagonist in GableStage’s The Adding Machine. But his Vernon does not exude a shred of being a victim or loser, just the host for a goodly dose of neuroses.

Moreland is blessed with both a powerhouse voice and an innate likability that charms anyone watching. Many will remember her from her frequent stands as the hairdresser in various productions of Shear Madness. But those with a good memory recall her dynamite turn as Mama Rose in the Fort Lauderdale Players’ Gypsy in the mid 1990s – a role we’d pay double to see her repeat.
Look, this is just cotton candy, but Moreland and Cheda make it awfully tasty.
Michelle F. Solomon wrote for miamiartzine:
The casting of Oscar Cheda as Vernon Gersch (based on Hamlisch himself) and Margot Moreland as Sonia Walsk (yes, you guessed it, based on Bayer-Sager) ensures there are actors who can sing the heck out of the songs, which, frankly in this show, is more essential than cracking Simon's comedy — although that can't be overlooked, either.
Keith Garsson's direction gives the show the snap it needs. This play takes off like a runaway train and keeping that pace is essential to its energy. It helps that he has his two stars who maintain that wattage throughout. When Cheda sings the title song — Vernon hears his hit playing in the restaurant — he lights up. And Cheda, who doesn't look like he'd have the moves, breaks out, swinging his hips and hitting every note while he grins from ear to ear.
Moreland's Sonia is a bit less infectious. While the character's clinginess could be endearing, her Sonia borders on manic. But all clears to calm when Moreland sings, which is where it really matters.
Speaking of the ensemble, David Berry, Lindsey Johr, Jamie Leigh, Chelsea Lee, George Macia, and Micah Scroggins are charismatic and add a wonderful liveliness to the show. Upping the ante in the lively department is a great group of musicians led by pianist Caryl Fantel, with Karen Nagy on synthesizer, Martha Spangler on bass, and Roy Fantel and Destin Johnson alternating performances on drums.

(Definitely worth a mention is Nate Lauar, who has a few funny bits at the end of the show in a brief appearance as Phil, the Engineer.)
Rod Stafford Hagwood hacked some words together for The Stunned Senseless:
...the Boca Raton Theatre Guild has a very fine production of “They’re Playing Our Song” running through Nov. 24 at the Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park.
Lucky for us, director Keith Garsson has found two leads who know exactly what they’re doing. They know when to caress a lyric like a violin, and when to belt it like a cornet. Both Oscar Cheda (as Vernon Gersch) and Margot Moreland (as Sonia Walsk) settle into their songs nicely, he with his richly luxuriant timbre and she with her rafter-rattling sonic boom. And they have some nimble comic timing, to boot.
Fortunately, this production has a live band, and that goes a long way to making things better because — aside from being a rarity these days due to prohibitive costs — this four-piece ensemble really swings, with a synthesizer filling in the score’s blank spots.
The Boca Raton Theatre Guild production of They're Playing Our Song plays at The Willow Theater at Sugar Sands Park through November 24, 2013.

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