Reviewed by Stephen Radosh

Originally produced Off-Broadway in 1987, and then on Broadway for an additional 297 performances, ROMANCE, ROMANCE is one of those small but charming musicals which often fade into obscurity over the passing decades and will probably be most remembered as the musical that provided Scott Bakula with his breakout performance as a leading man.  It was nominated for 5 Tony Awards but unfortunately it was the year of the juggernaut known as THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and so it won none.  It has a book and lyrics by Barry Harman, and Keith Herrmann supplied the music.
This musical is actually two one-act musicals linked by the theme of Romance and asking the question, is it ever too late for true love?  This question is addressed by the one song appearing in both acts, “It’s Not Too Late,” and applies to both jumping into and out of relationships. 
Act I, The Little Comedy, is based on a short story by Arthur Schnitzler.  It takes place in Vienna at the turn of the 20th Century.  Josefine (Conchita Belisle Newman) and Alfred (Christopher Carothers) are still vibrant members of the well-to-do elite and yearn to be truly loved for who they are and not for their money or social status.  As is typical of many of Schnitzler’s characters they are also bored with it all.  To find the true and honest love that they both crave, each decides to adopt a disguise as a person of little or no means. Josefine takes on the persona of a poor seamstress while Alfred becomes a struggling poet who is also flat broke. Naturally when their paths do cross, it is love at first sight.  The whole affair takes on an added excitement, as each explains in letters to their respective friends, since both have the other completely convinced that they are who they are pretending to be.  But it all begins to unravel when they take a week long excursion to a rustic countryside inn.  Clearly, neither has the talent which they claim to have and with nothing to amuse themselves with in their current idyllic and simple setting, real boredom sets in.  So heading back to Vienna earlier than planned, they each decide to tell the other the truth and call the whole affair off when next they meet.  But rather than each being angry at the other’s deception, they find comfort in the fact that they both are indeed rich and surprisingly still attracted to each other.  But just as we expect to see them stroll off happily into the sunset together, each expresses the certainty that it will all vanish under clouds of doubt and deception.  Oh, what fun is the game of love and romance!
Act II is called SUMMER SHARE and is set in the present at a home in The Hamptons being rented by two seemingly happy couples; Lenny (Eric B. Anthony) & Monica (Ms. Newman) and Barb (Robyn Cohen) & Sam (Mr. Carothers).  The dramatic fly-in-the-ointment is that Sam & Monica have been platonic best friends for years going back to before their respective weddings. The question at hand is will they be able to remain faithful or will their blissful seaside retreat turn into a battle zone.  That really is all the plot there is in this act’s musical.  As I am not fond of spoiler alerts, you will have to see the show to discover if they finally have sex or not.
There is a slight specter of Stephen Sondheim hovering over these two mini-musicals. Act I, with trace echoes of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, is the richer of the two.  Act II’s musical, with hints of the urbanity of COMPANY, is, as already noted, more of a character study than a plot driven piece.  As such, we really need to know more about each of the 4 characters (especially true for Lenny & Barb) in order to really care if their marriages survive or not.  Then there is the question of why Sam & Monica didn’t marry each other in the first place since there was always chemistry between them and they were close friends before getting married to their respective spouses. Unfortunately this question is never really answered which again undermines the potential tension inherent in their “will they or won’t they?” situation.
The show features a very talented cast of four.  Conchita Belisle Newman as Josefine displays a strong and lovely voice and has one of the most touching moments in the show with her beautiful rendition of “The Night It Had To End.”  It is a song which echoes the sentiment of all good things must end someday.  In Act II, as the contemporary Monica, she gets to let loose and show her more energetically playful side.  Through her attitude and body language she easily convinces us that she and Sam have been friends for a very long time and that there is still sexual tension in their as-of-yet strictly platonic relationship.
Christopher Carothers feels very much at home in the formality of Vienna at the turn of the last century.  His Alfred is self-assured, somewhat smug and at the same time filled with insecurities regarding his ability to ever find “true” love. He also clearly shows us the almost child-like joy he gets from playing ‘dress-up’ while taking on the role of the starving poet.  He has a warm and strong voice which he uses to great effect in several numbers in both acts.
Eric B. Anthony and Robyn Cohen have the supporting roles in Act II as the Monica’s and Sam’s respective spouses.  Although their roles are not as showy as that of their on-stage spouses, they get their moments to shine and especially score with their duet, “My Love For You.”  They also get to show off their strong dancing skills in Act I as they bridge many of the scenes with short pas de deuxs reflecting the actions and emotions of Josefine and Alfred.
The set by award winning scenic designer Jimmy Cuomo is elegant in its simplicity and versatility.  With the aid of a few revolving set pieces and a change of backdrop the set transforms itself from suggesting the elegant formality of old Vienna to the casual contemporary chicness of The Hamptons.  It is also nicely lit with the subtly changing moods of Moira Wilkie Whitaker’s lighting design.
The 4 piece combo, under the musical direction of Jaci Davis, is well balanced and sounds great. 
If you’re a lover of Musicals as I am, then grab your chance to see this rarely produced small but tasty candy-box of a musical.  And what could be more apt for the month of Valentine’s Day than an evening of ROMANCE,ROMANCE?
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All photos by Jim Cox.