With a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and music by Marvin Hamlisch, They’re Playing Our Song is based on the real life relationship of Hamlisch and Sager. Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager wrote many well loved songs of our time, and it is worth taking note of their songs being quietly played in the background before the show starts and during interval.
Unlike current musicals that are song driven and filled with big ensemble numbers, They’re Playing Our Song is more of a play with songs. The show is dialogue driven, with some very clever one-liners by Neil Simon that deliver plenty of laughs.
Sam Hooper has demonstrated considerable wisdom and maturity in his direction, bringing an appropriately restrained production that does not offer overly comedic portrayals, but instead manages to find the neurotic and quirky nuances of these characters that suit the intimacy of the performance space of the MC Showroom in Prahran, and ensures the two characters are immediately endeared to the audience.
Glenn Hill is perfectly cast as Vernon Gersch – the award winning composer who is most comfortable behind his piano and writing music. Hill is superb in this role and has excellent comedic timing. His lines are delivered in such a natural and under-stated way that it makes the lines even funnier than perhaps what they may seem on paper.
Alana Tranter is delightful as Sonia Walsk, portraying the quirky, emerging lyricist, who is initially quite ovewhelmed at working with the award winning composer. Tranter brings considerable warmth and heart to her character, which explains why her character has trouble letting go of past relationships when trying to establish a new one.
The two characters both have “inner voices” who help them process what they are thinking and feeling. The “inner voices” not only add some very funny moments to the story, they also allow for some beautiful harmonies and depth to the vocal score. Baylie Carson, Belle Power, Sam Ward and James Watkinson all deliver strong performances (as well as ensuring all set changes are carried out smoothly and efficiently).
Despite the very short season, the set design (Tessa Robinson) hasn’t been overlooked, with some very appropriate-for-the-era furniture that certainly had some older audience members reminiscing. Costumes further establish the era and reinforce Sonia’s budget-minded recycling. Lighting, by Celine Khong, effectively helps to create mood and set the location.
A three piece band provides accompaniment, with music direction by Chris Nolan. The sound is well balanced to ensure the unamplified vocals are clearly heard. It creates a very natural feel, which suits the presentation space. In a very clever directorial decision, the prop piano is back to back with the real piano, so while the audience can see pianist Chris Nolan playing live, they can also watch Glenn Hill “performing” in brilliant synchronisation as the award winning composer “Vernon Gersch”. In fact, it makes it easier to suspend your disbelief and embrace the story than being distracted trying to work out if the performer is actually playing at all.
New independent theatre company, Company Eleven have delivered a wonderful production of They’re Playing Our Song. What they have achieved within just a matter of weeks is quite remarkable.
Final performance tonight. Tickets available at https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=307054
Photo credit: Tennille Mansell