A Room With a View

This new musical based on E.M. Forster’s novel boasts an excellent cast and first-rate production, but doesn’t live up to the book or the 1985 film adaptation.

Kyle Harris, Karen Ziemba and
Ephie Aardema in  A Room with a View
(© Henry DiRocco)
Kyle Harris, Karen Ziemba and
Ephie Aardema in A Room with a View
(© Henry DiRocco)

E.M. Forster’s 1906 novel, A Room With A View, takes place in passionate Florence, Italy and the bucolic countryside of Edwardian England in the same year. And while the beloved 1985 film version perfectly captured the clashes of disparate cultures, the brand new musical version of
A Room With a View, now at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, just proves pleasant enough, especially thanks to the show’s first first-class production under Scott Schwartz’s direction. Still, it remains less successful than the book or movie.

The show’s creators, Jeffrey Stock and Marc Acito, haven’t presented an overriding imperative for their musicalization. The characters and plot deviate very little from the source material, and, for the most part, the songs don’t add any distinctive enrichment.

The action begins with the arrival of the spirited but middle-class Lucy Honeychurch (Ephie Aardema) and her cousin and chaperone Charlotte (Karen Ziemba) at an English pensione in Florence only to discover their rooms don’t have the view as advertised. The socialist Mr. Emerson (Kurt Zischke) offers to switch his and his son George’s (Kyle Harris) rooms with the ladies — and Lucy eagerly accepts to Charlotte’s dismay.

Lucy’s reputation is further compromised when she witnesses a murder in the streets, faints, and is rescued by the unconventional George. An outing in the countryside and a rainstorm further embroil the young couple until Lucy flees to the safety and protection of her stuffy, upper-class fiancé Cecil (Will Reynolds) back in Surrey. While planning for her wedding, however, Lucy discovers her attraction to George is still an impediment when he and his father unexpectedly show up because of Cecil’s prank on the priggish vicar, Mr. Beeber (Edward Staudenmayer).

Stock’s songs are melodic, but at times derivative of better musical theater numbers. For example, “A Carriage and Driver” calls to mind Sondheim’s “A Weekend in the Country,” while the Italian “Non Fate Guerra” (beautifully sung in a rich, full-bodied voice by Glenn Seven Allen) evokes memories of Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza. Meanwhile, Acito has a tendency at times to get too slapstick in his approach to the book’s comic moments, throwing off the tone of the material.

The standout number is the ragtime melody “Splash,” in large part due to the spirited performances by Harris, Staudenmayer, and Etai BenShlomo (as Freddy) as they rambunctiously cavort nude in a country lake. Aardema makes the most of the baroque “Ludwig and I” and Harris’ impassioned rendition of “Let It Rain” ends Act One with a real bang. Ziemba is finally given a chance to belt the 11 o’clock number, “Frozen Charlotte,” and she knocks it to the rafters.

Heidi Ettinger’s scenic design perfectly sets the piece’s mood, with sliding set pieces and traps rising up with pianofortes and benches or opening to reveal watery playgrounds. David Lander’s painterly lighting bestows a romantic glow to the Florence scenes, while Judith Dolan’s period costumes are picture-perfect. Musical Director Boko Suzuki leads a 14 piece orchestra and the lushness of the score is perfectly pitched in Jon Weston’s superb sound design.

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A Room With A View

Closed: April 15, 2012