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A CurtainUp Review
Living on Love

Without a single nomination, poor reviews and grosses, the show heads to an early grave 5/03/15, after 21 previews and 16 regular performances.

Kathleen and I tried to take a period comedy and make the humor sound like dialogue that those people could have said back then. . . to stay true to its '50s milieu but still have enough of a modern twist underneath it for a contemporary audience
— Joe DiPietro explaining his and director Kathleen Marshall's approach to adapting the original Garson Kanin play's humor so it wouldn't feel creaky, in a Boston Globe interview by Christopher Wallenberg, June 28, 2014
Living on Love
Anna Renée Fleming, Jerry O'Connell and Douglas Sills (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Opera Diva Reneé Fleming couldn't have wished for a more apt role for her non-operatic stage debut, or better support in the way of support: A Tony winning director with a strong musical sense, an A-Class co-star, and a set and costumes that scream Broadway. She could, however, have wished for , and gotten, a more substantial play.

That said, she's charming and, thanks to more than fifty world wide opera performances, certainly has the presence to handle the transition from opera to theater stage with aplomb. But what was pleasantly amusing and fun on a summer afternoon in Williamstown, MA was less so the second time around at the Longacre Theatre.

So what happened?

It's the same silly comedy centering on Rachel and Vito De Angelis, a long married larger than life opera diva and conductor, who actually refer to themselves as Diva and Maestro. He (a delightful Douglas Sills sporting an array of silk pajama and a syrup thick accent) has accepted (and spent) a large advance for his memoirs, but has frustrated a handful of ghost writers by refusing to getting further than four pages. As Robert Samson (Jerry O'Connell, ably replacing the original Justin Long), ghost #7 quits, Iris Peabody (the very funny Anna Chlumsky), a low-level assistant at the publishing house, arrives demanding evidence of the book's progress or a refund of the advance. Unsurprisingly, she ends up being ghost #8, and Samson's admiration for the Diva results in her writing her own memoir. Naturally Samson is the ghost for that one and the two ghosts provide a romantic subplot.

What happened is that what made for a pleasantly entertaining afternoon in Williamstown seems thinner and less consistently amusing and fast paced (especially in the first act) now that it's on Broadway. And Ms. Fleming doesn't seem quite as ideally served by the script.

While the Williamstown Theatre Festival's brief run of this newly customized screwball comedy was clearly a test run for a Broadway transfer out of town critics were asked not to review it, presumably to allow fine tuning for this completely untried venture — especially by Fleming, and also Marshall for whom directing a non-musical also marked a debut. No such restrictions applied to the Festival's production of the The Visit, sice it boasted a legendary theater star in Chita Rivera and left me sure it could and should land on Broadway, as it indeed did ( my review ).

But I was glad to just sit back and enjoy the way DePietro had apparently doctored Garson Kaninn's Peccadillo to insert lots of ways to put Ms. Fleming in her comfort zone— by opening things up for her to regularly burst into operatic trills; and letting her have fun playing against type since in real life this great Diva is known to be very nice and not a bit like the narcissistic Raquel De Angelo. The move of the source play's setting to Manhattan and 1957 was also a savvy an open sesame for many references to high profile music world names of the period.

Had I been reviewing Living on Love last year I would have felt less certain about the wisdom of a transfer. Opera singers, even one as famous and attractive as Renee Fleming, aren't quite the magnet for New York theater goers as someone like chita Rivera. And, since the original Peccadillo was a flop which even with Christopher Plummer and Glynis Johns never made it to Broadway, Joe DePietro's adaptation had all its bets on its new-to-Broadway opera star to make a transfer likely to have solid run and collect a few awards for Fleming.

Sills  and Anna Chlumsky
Sills persuades Anna Chlumsky's Iris Peabody, his book publisher's editor to take over as his ghost memoirist and embarks on another "peccadillo."
As I watched the Broadway production, I saw few signs of any noticeable fine tuning. Derek Lane's gorgeous Manhattan apartment fits beautifully on the Longacre stage, and Michael Krass's costumes are as elegant and authentically '50s as before. His three colorful silk pajamas for Mr. Sills struck me as sly visual nod to director Katherine Marshall's first Tony win, The Pajama Game. Fleming's breaking into operatic trills seems to have been intensified which may account for her performance not being quite as endearingly natural as it was in Williamstown. By contrast Douglas Sills is hilarious even when he doesn't say a word. Of course, though a seasoned musical theater actor (I still have fond memories of him in The Scarlet Pimpernel), Sills is allowed to focus on his comic shtik while the less legit experienced Fleming is forced to constantly have her lines segue into operatic tidbits to show off her golden soprano.

The two servants Bruce (Blake Hammond) and Eric (Scott Robertson) who DePietro elevated from their subsidiary roles in the Kanin play and Marshall used to add musicality and comic relief to the in between scenes are still quite funny. However, the first act suffers from sluggish pacing and that makes even their twin butler's appearances and running exit line "There's nothing you can do about that" rather repetitious and unfunny. However, they still get and deserve the show's one real show stopper, with a hilarious rendition (NOT an except!) of "Making Whoopee.""

Not to be overlooked when it comes to applause is Trixie, the Diva's adored Puccini. Though this furry charmer neither sings or dances, he's becoming a Broadway veteran (alas, not in hits— his last appearance was in Bullets Over Broadway).

On The Twentieth Century, another old-fashioned screwball comedy currently on the boards. Its star, Kristin Chenoweth, has a soprano to trill right alongside Ms Fleming. That show's story, also about a pair of flamboyant, self-involved celebrities, is also silly, but it's big, gaudy entertainment for all tastes and interests and does't just sing in sound bites. Wouldn't it be nice if someone would come up with a show for both these divas.

Living On Love by Joe DiPietro
Based on the play Peccadillo by Garson Kanin
Directed by Kathleen Marshall
Cast: Anna Chlumsky (Iris Peabody),Renee Fleming (Raquel De Angelis),Blake Hammond (Bruce), Jerry O'Connell (Robert Samson, replaces Justin Long from WTF production) , Scott Robertson (Eric),Douglas Sills (Vito De Angelis)
Sets: Derek McLane
Costumes: Michael Krass
Lighting: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound: Scott Lehrer
Rob Fisher (Music Consulting)
Stage Manager:
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, includes 1 intermission
Longacre Theatre 220 West 48th Street 212/239-6200
From 4/01/15; opening 4/20/15; closing 8/02/15
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 4/23/15 press performance
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