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THEATER REVIEW: Old Globe stages world premiere of “A Room With A View”

“A Room With A View,” E.M. Forster’s paean to young love, passion and breaking the rules of tightly-corseted Edwardian England, gets a musical treatment through April 15 at The Old Globe.

The world premiere of the show (with music and lyrics by Jeffrey Stock and book by Marc Acito) is directed by Scott Schwartz.

You remember the plot: Young Lucy Honeychurch (Ephie Aardema) travels to Florence for the first time with dried-up old spinster Charlotte Bartlett (the always-wonderful Karen Ziemba) before going on to Rome to meet her fiance, the extremely rich and utterly insufferable Cecil Vyse (Will Reynolds).

Lucy looks forward to doing what proper young Edwardian girls did: marry up to ensure sufficient money and improved status for herself and her family – until her complaints about their pensione room’s lack of a river view bring the Emersons into her life.

Young George Emerson (Kyle Harris) and his father (Kurt Zischke), also guests at the pensione, have a lovely view of the river and insist on switching rooms.

George is everything Cecil is not: friendly, spontaneous, liberal (uh-oh), willing to try anything. Lucy is properly horrified – and will spend the rest of the show figuring out that it’s really George she loves.

In case Charlotte proves insufficient to protect Lucy’s reputation, the Reverend Mr. Beeber (Edward Staudenmayer) comes along to amuse and annoy.

Several characters are double cast: Will Reynolds plays elderly spinster Miss Alan as well as Cecil; Etai BenShlomo plays The Other Miss Alan and Lucy’s brother Freddy; Gina Farrell is seen as Lucy’s mother Mrs. Honeychurch and as unreliable tour guide Miss Lavish.

Acito’s script and Stock’s music present an odd amalgam of clever lines, banality, corny jokes, nice musicality and too many verses.

Musically, the show starts out on a high note, with the Italian servants known as Ragazza (Jacquelynne Fontaine) and Italiano (Glenn Seven Allen), obviously classically trained, singing beautifully. I’d have been happy to listen to them all night.

The rest of Stock’s score is Sondheimian in feel, with mostly forgettable tunes and sometimes amusing lyrics, like this one for Cecil: “Chatting with strangers/about their hydrangeas/is not my idea of a morning well spent.”

Visually, it’s an extremely busy production: the first thing the audience sees is a chaotic “wall” plastered with postcards of places and scenes that will figure in the show. There are multiple scenic elements that move in and out; sets rotate; props appear from below; people are rush around with set pieces; characters come and go.

The impression is one of constant motion. This old lady just wished they’d stand still once in a while.

And the show is full of stuff. It almost seems constructed rather than organic, as if somebody’d made a checklist: naked statue, check; cute dog, check; pool, check; male nudity, check; fog (or was that steam?), check; rain, check. The story (simple as it is) tends to get lost in the stuff.

This story is not complex enough to require two hours, 40 minutes. Some judicious cutting is in order.

The cast tries hard to give life to this predictable story, and largely succeeds. It’s just that there are too many songs and too much dialogue for the size of the plot.

But of course it all ends well. George sees that “you’ve outgrown the plans you’ve made” well before Lucy does, and convinces her before it’s too late.

The details

“A Room With A View” runs through April 15 at The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets call (619) 234-5623 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.