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.
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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