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Theater Review (Seattle): ‘A Room With a View’ at the 5th Avenue Theatre

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The Merchant/Ivory film adaptations of E.M. Forster’s novels aren’t exactly the kind of thing one gets passionate about. They’re handsomely groomed and generally stocked with precise and elegant performances — the epitome of impeccable taste all around, which is sort of a euphemism for unbearably dull.

And yet, the films feel like triumphs of personal vision and bursting creativity compared to the musical adaptation of A Room with a View, a new work that first premiered in San Diego in 2012 and is still getting the kinks worked out in this Seattle run at the 5th Avenue Theatre. A schticky, broad, uneven take on the source material, this Room feels like the product of a committee, if that committee were staffed by at least 75 percent CBS sitcom writers.

Jeffrey Stock’s score is an amalgam of tried-and-true musical theater styles, and he occasionally hits on something good, like the Sondheim facsimile “A Carriage and Driver” or the ragtime-esque “Splash,” accompanied by one of the show’s few jolts of genuine fun as a trio of characters get caught bathing nude in a secluded swimming hole.

Lucy Honeychurch (Laura Griffith) and George Emerson (Louis Hobson) in "A Room with a View."  Photo by Tracy Martin

Lucy Honeychurch (Laura Griffith) and George Emerson (Louis Hobson) in “A Room with a View.” Photo by Tracy Martin

As for Marc Acito’s book — well, one can’t even damn it with the faint praise that it’s concise, as this thing nearly reaches the three-hour mark. The interplay between repressed Britons and liberated Italians is a significant element of the source material, but Acito goes way overboard with it, reducing nearly every character to a binary proposition. The Italians get it worst, unable to keep their hands off each other and always exclaiming “Il piacere!” as if it were the only word in their vocabulary. Surprisingly, there are no utterances of “Mamma mia!” or “Spaghetti and a meatballs!”

Meanwhile, Brits Lucy Honeychurch (Laura Griffith) and George Emerson (Louis Hobson) are constantly being exhorted to “really live” in the most egregious “carpe diem” abuse since Dead Poets Society. Naturally, they’ll discover that “really living” means ending up together, never mind that surplus fiancé, an effete stereotype played by Will Reynolds.

Director David Armstrong rarely delivers anything less than a supremely polished show, and A Room with a View is no exception. Griffith is an enormous talent, but there aren’t many opportunities for her to let loose vocally here, and her chemistry with Hobson is lacking, particularly in their duets where their distinct vocal styles don’t mesh all that well.

Even in the black hole of humor that is this script, Richard Gray and Matt Owen wrangle some laughs with their respective glint-eyed turns as a priest pushing the boundaries of his repressions and Lucy’s impish brother.

And among Walt Spangler’s expansive scenic design, beautiful except for some dodgy grassy knolls, A Room with a View even looks like a musical destined for Broadway. It’s a valiant effort by the 5th to gussy up a lemon, but it’s mostly to no avail.

A Room with a View runs through May 11. Tickets are available for purchase online.

 

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.
  • A British film scholar writes

    What an absurd review opening. Your dismissal of Ivory’s 1985 film of A Room With A View is deeply misguided. It was acclaimed by critics such as the great Andrew Sarris; it won Oscars; it remains well-loved and popular decades later for good reasons. Most of all, Ivory’s film is witty, socially observant and FUNNY. Have you even seen it, or are you merely repeating tenth-hand opinion?

    More to the point, why give Ivory’s film such priority in this review? Does this new stage musical claim to be an adaptation of his film, or of E. M. Forster’s original novel? To be sure, this new musical-theatre adaptation sounds lacking and I will not be rushing to see it. But this review sheds no light on its intentions, which text(s) it seeks to adapt, or why it falls down as it does in relation to either the wit and humour of the film or the concerns of Forsters novel.

    • Jordanne

      My daughter and I saw this stage production of “A Room With a View” at the 5th Avenue Theatre in April…We are both huge fans of the 1985 film. However, neither of us has read the novel.
      Where this show fell apart was that it tried (and failed) to be a light comedy when the heart of the story is pure drama. Even they death of the Italian in the square that was so profoundly disturbing in the film, was treated quite tongue-in-cheek. Simply, as a purse snatching gone wrong.
      Whereas in the Merchant & Ivory film, the comedic elements worked because the were subtle and relied on the quirky eccentricities of the supporting cast rather than hijinks simply interjected for an easy laugh.
      The sets were beautiful…but the songs did little to move the story along. Rather, they seems stiff and contrived. The cast gave solid performances in spite of a weak script..
      Out of 5 stars, this production was only a 2. Save your money for a better show, This one is not going to make it to Broadway.