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I Remember You

We learned how to behave from the movies we saw and the songs we heard. —Buddy

Tony Danza in I Remember You
Tony Danza in I Remember You (Photo: Brigitta Fry)
What Noel Coward tossed off in a line about "the potency of cheap music"”inspired a whole play from comedy-of-mores playwright Bernard Slade. A predictable confection, it takes place in a piano bar where charming 52-year-old lounge singer Austin "Buddy" Bedford (Tony Danza) bases a career on Johnny Mercer’s haunting ballad "I Remember You." Of course, he has a lost love but this irreplaceable fantasy serves two purposes: it keeps him single and it’s chick bait.

Until one dark and stormy night (a play based on clichés deserves another), out of the rain comes a young woman called Tracy (Madison Dunaway) who reminds Buddy forcefully of his dream girl. When, after a passionate 10-day affair, they decide to get married and she takes him home to meet her mother, he discovers why. Twenty-five years ago he had an affair with the gorgeous married Prunella (Robin Riker) in London who considered leaving her husband and small daughter for him.

Slade, best known for Same Time Next Year, is a master of confrontational comedy and the deft cast, directed with choreographic subtlety by musical veteran Walter Painter, take to the material like ducks to water. In this case, more like raccoons to a midnight ramble, since Pru, now a children’s book writer/illustrator, has made all her cartoons of her rascally raccoon look like Buddy. She doesn’t seem to realize it but her publisher Oliver Pemberton (Richard Gilliland) recognizes Buddy immediately.

What Slade is after here is the destructive power of romantic fantasy and it gives the play a cultural and relevant underpinning. It’s first demonstrated by Tracy, who tells us she became pushy, demanding and abrasive because her mother was emotionally absent, distracted by her obsession with Buddy. Dunaway succeeds brilliantly in demonstrating this charmlessness and her pain in Buddy and Pru’s relationship shows her range as an actress. None of the other roles have such opportunities.

Riker is a warm and vibrant personality as Pru, making her status as a quarter-century dream girl credible. Gilliland has the air of a New York publisher and gives full comic flavor to the thinly-written character of Oliver. Danza, who has toured his live song and dance show for the past eight years, is unaffectedly appealing as Buddy and knows his way around a song, giving the standards the kind of rueful phrasing and nostalgic patina that cling to passion’s fading afterglow. The songs, one of the play’s most enjoyable features, include numbers by Rodgers & Hart, Noel Coward, Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin written when singers took their love on the rocks or extra dry and wreathed in cigarette smoke.

Tom Buderwitz’s excellent set, a bar on one side and Pru’s living room on the other, is manually and silently revolved between each scene while an actor mimes business at the front of the stage. J. Kent Inasy creates lighting that delineates the low lights of the lounge from the mundane and fantasy moments. Ivy Heather Thaide’s costumes do most justice to the ladies, echoing the femme fatale image that those songs moan about, but the gents look elegant, too.

A few scenes lack credibility, including the last one. One wishes Pru and Buddy had the courage of their fantasies, though that might be a play about two other people. Still, the cast are the kind of people you’d like to meet in a bar, if you’re lucky. If the play has the ephemeral quality of a popular tune, in their hands it’s "a lovely way to spend an evening" or "have one more for the road", whichever the case may be.

Playwright: Bernard Slade
Director: Walter Painter
Cast: Tony Danza (Austin “Buddy” Bedford), Madison Dunaway (Tracy Wheaton), Richard Gilliland (Oliver Pemberton), Robin Riker (Prunella Somerset).
Set Design: Tom Buderwitz
Lighting Design: J. Kent Inasy
Costume Design: Ivy Heather Thaide
Sound Design: Robert Arturo Ramirez
Musical Director/Arranger/Pianist: Nelson Kole
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission
Running Dates: October 27 to November 12, 2006.
Where: The Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank, (818) 955-8101.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on November 2.

Songs Buddy Sings:
Yesterday When I Was Young/ Kretzmer/Aznavour
That Face/ Spence/Bergman
Where or When / Rodgers/Hart
Isn’t It Romantic? / Rodgers/Hart
You Go To My Head / Gillespie/Coots
Let’s Face The Music and Dance/ Berlin
Our Love Is Here To Stay / Gershwin/Gershwin
I Remember You / Mercer/Schertzinger
Just The Way You Look Tonight / Fields/Kern
Polonaise in A / Chopin
Every Time I See You / Daniels
It’s Only A Paper Moon / Haraburg/Rose
If Love Were All / Coward
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