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Trying to make a relationship work

Posted: May 26th, 2017 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, Theater | No Comments

By David Dixon

There is always a sense of excitement in getting to watch good performers return to roles they have played in the past, and it’s always a positive experience if they are able to recapture the power of earlier portrayals.

Frank Remiatte and Debbie David starred in “They’re Playing Our Song” in a 1990s version presented by Coronado Playhouse. Both of them are currently playing opposite each other again at the Lamplighters Community Theatre’s interpretation.

Frank Remiatte as Vernon and Debbie David as Sonja in the Lamplighters Community Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “They’re Playing Our Song.” (Photo by Adriana Zuniga-Williams)

As the 1970s are coming to a close, a composer, Vernon (Remiatte), plans on collaborating with an ambitious lyricist, Sonja (David). Over time, the artists become attracted to each other, but they each have their own quirks and foibles.

Vernon, for example, has problems with commitment and being emotionally open, while Sonja remains dedicated to her ex-boyfriend Leon.

Notwithstanding their personal issues, they attempt to start dating, which leads to a lot of highs and lows over an extended period of time.

The relationship between Vernon and Sonja is based on that between composer, Marvin Hamlisch, and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager. Although Hamlisch and Sager broke up, the musical is still a strong collaboration between them and book writer Neil Simon.

Kirk Valles’ musical direction retains the 70s pop style of the tunes. Just as important to the musical numbers is Steve Murdock’s audio, which makes even the quieter melodies like “Fallin,’” “If He Really Knew Me” and “Fill in the Words” easy to hear.

There are also light pop tunes about music and the songwriting process itself such as the title song and “Workin’ it Out.”

While most of Hamlisch and Sager’s songs contribute to the ambience and central affair, their only misstep is the Act II opening “When You’re in My Arms.”

Hamlisch and Sager’s number sounds less like a Broadway-friendly song, and more like the theme of an older television sitcom.

Pretty much everything else about the script to “They’re Playing Our Song” adds an enjoyable experience, including Simon’s typically quip-heavy prose. His funniest moments are when the protagonists’ foibles and flaws are exposed.

Vernon can be bossy and doesn’t always show Sonja warmth or compassion. Sonja also has issues such as not always being focused on her craft and being too loyal to the moocher, Leon.

What really drives the plot is the love that grows between Vernon and Sonja. Several ensemble members such as Matthew Noll, Kylie Young, Dawn-Marie Zuniga Williams and Eric Gonzalez portray the voices inside the heads of the writers.

All the voices wear costumes from Laura Sutton that feel inspired by “Saturday Night Fever” and the “Austin Powers” trilogy.

Yet, Remiatte and David are front and center for the majority of the evening. They ground Simon’s humor in reality and croon together in an endearing way.

Despite personal issues, Remiatte and David are never unsympathetic or cruel in their interpretations, partly because they show plenty of respect for each other.

President of Lamplighters’ board of directors, George Bailey, is responsible for the natural chemistry on Kirsten Girard’s apartment-themed set, adding to the fine performances by the leads.

He never rushes through the dialogue, and creates investment when intimate topics like trust, commitment and personal accomplishments are discussed.

Bailey and the principal entertainers are showing love in all of its messiness, with plenty of charming appeal. There is only a week left of the engagement, so don’t wait to buy tickets before the rest of the run is over.

—David Dixon is a freelance theater and film writer. Reach him at daviddixon0202@gmail.com.

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