They’re Playing Our Song •

Bay City Players Stage a Memorable Musical Valentine Based Upon the Real-Life Romance of Marvin Hamlisch & Carole Bayer Sager

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 891   By: Robert E Martin

30th January, 2020     0

Bay City Players is gearing up to provide some radiant energy to the mid-Winter chill with their upcoming production of They’re Playing Our Song - a delectable musical with a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, and music by Marvin Hamlisch, which will run from February 7-9th and February 14-16th, with performances at 7:30 PM except for Sunday matinees at 3:00 PM.

With a story based upon the real-life relationship of Hamlisch and Sager, a wisecracking composer finds a new offbeat lyricist in his quest to find a new collaborator, and the two undergo a series of trials and overcome a number of hurdles before finding true love by the final curtain.

Essentially a two-character show featuring Vernon and Sonia, the play premiered in Los Angeles in 1978, and each of these characters also has a three-person Greek chorus acting as their inner voices, which adds levity and nuance to the action; and 10 great songs flow to illuminate their story, with musical direction by Kevin Cole, who enjoyed a close professional relationship with Hamlisch prior to his untimely passing.

Under the direction of Ric Roberts, while They’re Playing Our Song is not your traditional music, according to Roberts it clicks on all cylinders because “It is a beautiful love story complimented with some stunning music.  Of all the wonderful music he has created, Marvin Hamlisch has stated that the song Falling that is featured in this production is his favorite of all the songs he has created; and the writing supports the evolution of this romantic & professional relationship between Hamlisch and Sager in every way, both from dialogue and musical lyric perspectives.”

“The addition of the 3-person chorus-voices for each character helps tell their story from an internal point of view,” he continues. “Each time the audience encounters the VOICES, it is a fantasy sequence in one of our lead characters minds. This is very similar to the staging for the film Chicago a few years back, when all the musical numbers were fantasy moments, usually performed on a stage.”

When asked what he feels is the most challenging component involved with bringing a production of this nature to the stage, Roberts points to the fact that 95% of the show is on the shoulder of its lead actors, Dan Taylor as Vernon Gersch and Brianne Dolney as Sonia Walsk.  “Except for a few ‘off-stage’ lines, they carry 100% of the dialogue and 95% of the music, including ballads, duets, and of course solo work. That is a tough thing to do, especially when you get 12-hours of rehearsal a week for 4-1/2 weeks and both of these actors work very demanding full-time jobs.  We are extremely lucky to have these two stage veterans in our cast for this production.”

An added dimension to the challenges these actors are presented with is the fact that Mrs. Terre Blair Hamlisch, the widow of the late composer Marvin Hamlisch, will be attending the first two evenings of Bay City Players’ production.  “This puts an extra sense of urgency to create not only a great production, but one that truly honors her husband’s legacy,” notes Roberts.

According to Cole, “I was fortunate to work with Marvin Hamlisch as his featured pianist of choice for concerts all across the country for eight years. He became my mentor and friend. We laughed and ate our way across the country.  Unlike the other composer-songwriters I perform with,  I actually knew Marvin.”

“In suggesting this musical to Players I wanted to accomplish two things,” continues Kevin.  “First, to celebrate the 75th birthday year of Marvin Hamlisch by doing something in my hometown. Second, I wanted to bring Terre Blair Hamlisch, Marvin’s widow, to Bay City Players to see where my musical theatre roots began.”

“I am happy and honored to say that Mrs. Hamlisch is flying in for our opening weekend and will be part of a special preshow reception on February 8th., and will be doing talkbacks after the shows on February 7th and 8th. Marvin will indeed be smiling down on all of us.”

While auditions for big name musical shows tend to draw a lot of actors from around the area, Roberts says that a smaller musical such as They’re Playing Our Song, even though it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical, tends not to draw a large number of regional actors to auditions.  “As a director that can be worrisome,” he reflects. “So Kevin Cole and I made phone calls to ask folks not to forget about our auditions and were overwhelmed with the talent level of every single person who auditioned. Sadly, with a small cast, we could not use them all.”

In addition to the two lead roles, the rest of the cast consists of Rachel Doriean, Yolandie Hamilton and Rebecca Smith as the ‘Voices of Sonia’ and Zachary Bauer, Thad Van Tifflin and Paul Jacobs as the ‘Voices of Vernon’.  Assistant Director is Erin Frye and Associate Conductor is David Snyder.

As a director, what are some of the thematic elements that Ric is striving to emphasize and bring out in this production by Bay City Players?

“This script was written by none other than Neil Simon, so in my estimation a good director first-and-foremost tries to honor the script in a way that the playwright intended,” reflects Roberts. “Consequently, the major focus that I take away from the script is how the two lead characters really reveal their individual personal transformations.  At the beginning of the script Vernon is a bit guarded and Sonia it a bit of a free spirit; but by the final scene, it is Vernon who comes to Sonia and throws caution to the wind for a chance at a real romance.  Sonia is the one who questions whether it is going to work or not, and the one who eventually says ‘yes’.”

Bay City Players will present ‘They’re Playing Our Song’ on February 7-9 &14-16 at Bay City Players, 1214 Columbus Ave., Bay City. Tickets are available at baycityplayers.org or by calling the box office at 989-893-5555 from 9 am to 1 pm Monday - Friday. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students. ‘They’re Playing Our Song’ is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.

 

 

 

 

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