This not often seen musical based on the 1952 play The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents was originally put forward as a project for Rodgers and Hammerstein, but it never got off the ground. So a few years after Hammerstein’s death in 1960, Rodgers turned to his old partner’s protégé Stephen Sondheim as a collaborator.
The show eventually opened on Broadway in 1965 after what had been a particularly difficult gestation mainly due to Rodgers’ drinking and Sondheim’s dislike of parts of the score. It received a generally favourable response from critics, but closed after seven months, somewhat overshadowed by the premieres of Hello Dolly and Fiddler on the Roof around the same time.
Despite the difficulty in bringing it to the stage, the hallmarks of the two distinguished composers are still much in evidence. The melodies are often infectious and Sondheim’s lyrics are, as you’d expect, witty, sophisticated and a masterclass in construction.
All that aside, however, not much else can be said for this rather lacklustre production directed by John Savourin.
The story is that of single American woman Leona (played by Rebecca Seale) holidaying alone in Venice, who is whisked into a romance with smooth-talking local shopkeeper Renato Di Rossi (played by Philip Lee), but there are the inevitable complications to their relationship.
More Americans abroad and Italian locals, all of whom with the passage of time seem very stereotypical, populate the rest of the story. OK, the show’s nearly 50 years old so is bound to be a little clichéd, but a lighter touch could have still made it work.
In the end it’s an old-fashioned love story and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the main problem was I just didn’t believe the chemistry between the central pair and therefore found it difficult to care about their fate.
Singing from the whole cast is first rate though and I particularly enjoyed the performances of Rosie Strobel as the flouncy and predatory hotel owner Fioria, and Victoria Ward and Bruce Graham as a holidaying couple who are slaves to their itinerary.
It all takes place on a fairly bare stage with the inadequate musical accompaniment of just piano and percussion. The result is a production that lacks any real atmosphere and is only occasionally lifted out of the ordinary by the quality of the songs, which still isn’t bad I suppose.
Reviewed by Tony Peters
Do I Hear A Waltz plays at the Park Theatre until 30 Marc 2014
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents
Directed by John Savourin
Leona Rebecca Seale
Renato Di Rossi Philip Lee
Fioria Rosie Strobel
Mrs McIlhenny Victoria Ward
Mr McIlhenny Bruce Graham
Giovanna Carolina Gregory
Vito Arcadio Fernandez
Alfredo Will Haswell
Eddie Matthew Kellet
Mauro Shared between Theo Coleridge and Ernesto Xhema