|Photo by Michael Brosilow|
|Edward Watts and Stephanie Rothenberg in Roman Holiday. |
What do you get when you merge a classic romantic comedy with music from one of the great songsmiths of the 20th century? In the case of Roman Holiday at the Guthrie, you get a piece that is less than the sum of its parts. Both halves of the concept fight for attention, making the whole evening more of a slog than a joyful run through a one-day "affair" and the music of Cole Porter.
I'll admit that my antipathy toward royalty has something to do with my reaction. I'm not particularly enchanted by relics from past ages sponging off their citizens, so the plight of Princess Anne trying to break free from her gilded shackles really doesn't engage me. I'm sure the everyday citizens of Europe in the early 1950s -- still trying to dig themselves out of World War II -- would have been full of sympathy for her.
That aside, there's still plenty that doesn't work in the stage production of Roman Holiday. A lot of it is drawn from the conception. While the songs generally fit in with the themes and the story, they really don't emerge naturally from the character's emotions. Instead, there's a lot of "Oh, what a beautiful day" leading into, say, "A Picture of Me Without You."
The tweaks that Paul Blake added to the story are a mixed bag. Adding a saucy Roman singer, Francesca, adds some spice -- and gives Christina Baldwin a chance to showcase her excellent singing and acting. On the other hand, making reporter/Anne's sort-of love interest Joe also a songwriter with a chance to write a Broadway musical? Not that great of an idea.
|Photo by Michael Brosilow|
Joe ends up being quite a bit of a problem here. While the other main actors do a solid job in their roles, Edward Watts is as stiff as a board throughout the show. He possesses a magnificent voice, but far too often he stands stock still in the middle of the stage like a first-grader giving a speech before an all-school assembly.
This stiffness extends to the character himself. I just had a hard time buying the budding romance here. It doesn't help that Joe is really acting like a cad through most of this. He is using his chance encounter with the princess (who, in the way of these stories, is out incognito) to make some bucks so he can escape Rome and go back to New York.
Stephanie Rothenberg does good work as Anne, making a bright and engaging character out of the princess. Michelle Barber is good in her limited time onstage as the Countess, Anne's guardian and confidant, while Jim Stanek makes for a far more engaging character than Watts as Irving, Joe's lovelorn photographer.
The whole evening looks and sounds sumptuous, with Todd Rosenthal's sets deserving a bow of their own, as they largely bring Rome to life. The songs -- from the opening "Once Upon a Time" through "Night and Day" -- match the elegance of the look and the voices. (Though considering the money put into the show, you think they could have hired some actual string players instead of using horrible-sounding synthesized ones.)
In the end, Roman Holiday collapses under its sheer weight. Adding the music, no matter how excellently performed, takes a joyful little tale of a person's temporary escape from responsibility and turns it into a turgid evening where the audience is force fed the joy until there's nothing left except the hope for it all to end.
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Through August 19
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818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis, MN