They're Playing Our (70s) Song


Kevin Spirtas, Elyse Wolf

They’re Playing Our Song fills an interesting little ecological niche in the theatrical biosphere. It’s certainly a musical comedy but it’s small, very small. The cast is small—only two people; the dress is contemporary (well, late 70s) and in a pinch you could do the music with little more than a piano. So it’s an easy production to mount. That makes it perfect for Surflight’s “not quite a full blown musical” slot with which it opens its fall season every year. I can understand why it was chosen.

The book is by Neil Simon, whose autobiographical trilogy Surflight did in the past with great success. This play is also autobiographical but not about Simon’s life. This time it’s about the love affair of the play’s lyricist, Carole Bayer Sager and its composer Marvin Hamlisch. In this roman(tic) a clef Sager’s character is named Sonia Walsk (Elyse Wolf) and Hamlisch’s is named Vernon Gersch (Kevin Spirtas).

In the Broadway production there was a Greek chorus that was never seen but in Surflight’s production they appear on stage singing and dancing at strategic moments to illuminate the character’s feelings. (That’s what Greek choruses do, after all.) Christopher August, Kirk Bixby and Andrew Foote are the “voices” of Vernon and Stephanie Feigen, Zoe Blair Friedman and Karyn McNay are Sonia’s “voices.” Their dancing was spot on, due no doubt to Tara Jeanne Vallee’s choreography.

Spirtas and Wolf make an endearing pair. In fact I can’t imagine the original Broadway cast, Robert Klein and Luci Arnaz doing a better job. Spirtas' years of television acting (Dr. Craig Wesley on Days of Our Lives) have served him well. He has a nicely understated delivery. Wolf’s Sonia manages to be loveable despite being maddeningly neurotic.

If this production has a weakness for me I would have to say it's Joseph Trainor's set design. He took a highly stylized approach that reminded me of nothing so much as the sets of an early German expressionistic film like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Well, the fall shows don't have the budgets of the summer shows and an artist has a right to his own vision, after all. We'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.

If the play itself has one weakness I’d have to say it is, ironically, the songs. At one point Sonia tells Vernon his music is ummm… “commercial.” That epithet clearly fits Hamlisch’s work. Traditional show tunes have an almost timeless feel to them. They’re Playing Our Song’s are very much a product of the 1970s when they were written. To audiences then they most have sounded hip and contemporary. To my ear today they sound dated. Of course the play sticks to its 70s roots, complete with some incidental disco music when Vernon and Sonia are in a nightclub. So perhaps instead of complaining that the music sounds dated I should applaud its authenticity. One thing is for sure. It was obvious that the small audience that saw the show on opening night thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I think you will too.

They're Playing Our Song plays at the Surflight through September 29, 2007 at 8pm and through September 30 at 2pm.