Friday, March 23, 2012

The Old Globe's Romantic A Room with a View

Ephie Aardema and Kyle Harris. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

After seeing Marc Acito and Jeffrey Stock’s new musical based on E. M. Forster’s novel, A Room With A View, I couldn’t stop thinking about how fortunate we are to live in the 21st century. Women today can, for the most part, make choices based on what they prefer to do rather than what society expects them to do. They can work outside the home, live wherever they like, and marry whomever they choose…not exactly the case in Edwardian England in 1908.

Despite the rigid social restrictions placed on his young heroine, Lucy Honeychurch (Ephie Aardema) comes to find that one of life’s biggest lessons is learning to listen to one’s own heart. If you want the life of your dreams, there comes a point when you must say ‘yes’ despite what others may think. In A Room With A View Lucy finds the way to her ‘yes’ by learning to understand and appreciate her own feelings, and who can’t identify with that?

It’s a story that romantics will adore and one that presents endless possibilities in Acito and Stock’s envisioning. Visually it is a beautiful presentation with vintage travel postcards in warm earth tones and lush period accents creating the framework of Heidi Ettinger’s gorgeous set design all under the glow of David Lander’s inspired lighting.


The cast of A Room With A View
The scenes set in Florence, Italy are sensually and sometimes humorously driven by two characters representing the country’s volatility and deep passion, Ragazza (Jacquelynne Fontaine) and Italiano (Glenn Seven Allen). Both are exceptionally trained operatic singers whose voices are glorious bel canto instruments that add a rich texture to the show. “Non Fate Guerra” is a particular highlight, as is the company’s Act I finale, complete with Fontaine’s high E flat and a cascade of falling rain.

While traveling abroad, the well-bred Lucy Honeychurch (Ephie Aardema) and independently minded George Emerson (Kyle Harris) take an instant dislike to each other in typical storytelling fashion. We know without a doubt that these two contrasting personalities will eventually end up together but that may be one of the biggest challenges the show faces; how to develop the story in a way that keeps the audience from drawing the obvious conclusion at the end of the first scene.

While the musical contains strong characters and lovely scenes that take us through the Italian city and English countryside, there is still a sense that the story is biding its time. We know how it’s going to end but it shouldn’t feel like such a foregone conclusion. Act II especially contains scenes that, while charming and humorous, seem a departure from the real heart of the story.

Lucy’s struggle must draw us in from the very beginning and though Aardema is lovely and brings a youthful determination to Lucy that makes a song like “Ludwig and I” a theatrical tour de force, her initial scenes continually focus on her resistant attitude. The result is that it takes us longer to warm up to her than the authors might like. By contrast, George Emerson, played by Harris, is a handsome fellow with an inquisitive mind and easy charm. He is instantly likeable. His trio “Splash,” with Lucy’s brother Freddy (Etai BenShlomo) and Reverend Beeber (Edward Staudenmayer) captures his joie de vivre and also makes for a rousing display of camaraderie among the three men.

Karen Ziemba shines in the Maggie Smith role of Charlotte, Lucy’s straight-laced cousin and ever-watchful traveling companion. She delivers her Act II song “Frozen Charlotte” from a powerful well of emotion but the song itself seems out of place in the story. By the way, Judith Dolan’s costume design is magnificent, with the construction and detail of Ziemba’s dresses being especially stunning. Kurt Zischke gives a moving performance as George’s father and Gina Ferrell’s double turn as the fearless novelist Miss Lavish and fluttering Mrs. Honeychurch is a delight. Even Will Reynolds makes the most of his rather one-dimensional character, Cecil Vyse.

A Room With A View is a beautifully drawn collage yet for all of its glossy and well put together effects, it feels as though something is missing. Reaching deeper into the psyche of its leading lady and loosening her corset could be just what’s needed to make this story truly soar. Internal struggle is always worth the exploration, and with so much going for it already, this is one romance we want to see succeed. A Room With A View runs through April 8 at The Old Globe in San Diego. For tickets and information go to www.theoldglobe.org.

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