Review by David Munro
STEPHEN Sondheim had to be persuaded to collaborate with Richard
Rodgers on this show. At the time, 1964, he had already had two
shows on Broadway for which he had written music and lyrics and
did not want to regress to a lyricist for another composer.
But pressure from Arthur Laurents the librettist and Mary Rodgers,
Richard’s daughter, plus a half promise he had given to
Oscar Hammerstein just before he died that he would write lyrics
for “Dick” forced him to agree. It proved a big mistake
as none of the three collaborators got on, there were continual
disagreements as to the style of the show – Rogers wanting
it to be romantic whilst the others felt it should be more astringent.
Rodgers also found fault with Sondheim’s lyrics. On one
occasion during rehearsals when Sondheim handed Rodgers a new
lyric, Rodgers referred to it as C*** in front of the whole cast.
But Rodgers was the Producer and therefore had the last word.
As a result Sondheim later referred to him as a man “of
infinite talent and limited soul".
Do I Hear A Waltz? opened on Broadway in March
1965 and ran for 222 performances but failed to recoup its investment.
The main problem seems to have been that what was essentially
a chamber musical was blown up with inflated sets and dances shoehorned
in for the sake of having dancing, so that it lost the charm and
impetus the writers had intended.
The production now at the Landor is based on a version which
Laurents and Sondheim revised for a revival in 1999 and which
represents their original view of the show. Having seen both versions
I infinitely prefer the revised one which is tauter and more dramatic.
The action takes place in Venice and revolves around Leona, an
idealistic secretary who has gone there to live the dream she
has of the place. She meets and falls for the married owner of
a shop but the romance is short lived and she returns to America
a wiser and possibly happier person. Also involved with her are
the other guests at the Pensione, two married couples whom Laurents
uses to exemplify the American abroad, and the cynical but sensual
owner of the Pensione.
The cast which Robert McWhir has assembled for his production
are with one exception perfect. Anna Stolli as Leona carries the
brunt of the action which she does with aplomb and a great deal
of charm, making Leona a moving and heart-warming character.
She has a lovely singing voice and an ability to give the lyrics
their full effect which is rare these days. She made the imperfections
in Leona’s character understandable and proved in so doing
that she is also a sensitive actress which should stand her in
good stead in the future when she gets the West End leads I am
sure she is destined for.
Susan Raasay as Fiora the owner of the Pensione, extracts every
ounce of character from the part. She too gets the maximum effect
from her lyrics and her wry observations on the guests she accommodates
in “This week Americans" is a joy.
Eddie and Jennifer Yeager, who were
allowed the only dancing in the show, were amusingly and at the
same time, realistically portrayed by Alexander Evans and Gabriella
Santinelli. Both had good singing voices and a sense of humour
which was well exercised in the cynical duet “We’re
gonna be alright” cataloguing the compromises required by
marriage. Miss Santinelli was most moving in the trio which opens
the second act “Moon in my Window” where she, Leona
and Fiora reflect on the effects of romance.
As the archetypal tourists, Mr and Mrs Mcllheny, Ian Dring and
Zoe Ann Brown avoided caricaturing the roles whilst at the same
time emphasizing the aspects of tourism which the more sophisticated
find risible, displaying their purchases and organising their
days etc. Two well modulated performances .
No Pensione is complete without the maid who doesn’t speak
English and muddles up the guest’s affairs and this was
no exception. Her name is Giovanna and Julia Riley played her
to perfection. Her scene with Leona when Leona tries to extract
information was a delight and very funny, as was the trio “No
understand” with Alexander Evans and Susan Raasay.
Two minor but telling parts, the venal guide Mauro and the shop
assistant, Vito were effectively played by Adam Ellis and Paul
I now find myself in a quandary over Daniel Gillingwater as Renato
di Rossi, the object of Leona’s affections and the leading
man of the show. Mr Gillingwater sang beautifully and acted with
warmth and feeling. His scenes with Leona were touching and sincere
and yet I never quite believed in him. He was in a sense too “English”
to be an Italian philanderer. I felt this was an attempt of casting
against type which didn’t quite come off, which is a pity
as I liked Mr Gillingwater as a performer but not in this part.
The star of the show must be Robert McWhir who directed with
a firm hand and brought the piece stunningly to life. I particularly
liked the ending where he makes Leona, who throughout the play
has been attempting a crossword puzzle she has torn from a paper,
tear it up and scatter the pierces in a gesture of defiance and
relief, signifying her turning her back on the past and entering
a new life with hope. A lovely piece of business which followed
on logically from the final duet “Thank you so much”
between Leona and Renato. Thank you, Mr McWhir.
Apart from my mild cavil with regards the leading man, I found
this a very rewarding evening and a revelation as to how a little
revision and a first class director can turn a flawed work into
a very acceptable one. Definitely not a show to be missed and
I hope some farsighted impresario will take it into the West End
where it deserves to be.
Do I hear A Waltz? - Book by Arthur Laurents (based
on his play The Time Of The Cuckoo)
Lyrics – Stephen Sondheim
Music – Richard Rodgers
Director – Robert McWhirr
Musical Direction – David Randall
Choreography – David Lucas
Set Design – Tony Common
Costume Design – Seema Iqbal
Lighting – Richard Lambert
CAST – Anna Stolli, Daniel Gillingwater, Gabriella
Santinelli, Alexander Evans, Zoe Ann Brown, Ian Dring, Susan Raasay,
Julia Riley, Paul Russell and Connall McCoy.
Landor Theatre – 70 Landor Road – London
September 7th to October1st at 7.30pm
BOX OFFICE – 020 7737 7276