You would be hard pushed to find a musical that didn’t have some kind of love story woven in, but the theme is so prevalent in this musical, they built it in to the title, twice. Romance Romance, with book and lyrics by Barry Harman and music by Keith Herrmann, started life off-Broadway in 1987, before transferring to Broadway the following year. It was in London a decade later at The Gielgud, and now, just like the musical currently residing in that same West End Theatre, this production of Romance Romance, directed by Stephen Dexter has gender switched two of the principal roles.
With an all-male cast of four, Romance Romance becomes a gay love story, although strictly speaking it’s actually two completely different musicals, joined together by an interval, and one reprise. The first act, entitled ‘The Little Comedy’ is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s short story, and sees two very well off gentlemen disguise themselves as paupers in order to find love, ultimately finding each other, with both completely unaware the other is a man of means.
Set in Vienna, around the late 1800’s, the story becomes more pertinent because of the attitudes towards homosexuality at the time. Told in an entirely narrative form as both men recount the experience through letters to far flung friends, it’s a surprisingly funny first act, largely due to Jordan Lee Davies’ masterfully comic performance, complemented by Blair Robertson’s strong vocals.
The second, and arguably more enjoyable act has the title of ‘Summer Share’ and in contrast is set in modern day, with little concern surrounding anyone’s sexuality. Best friends Sam and Jeremy, along with their respective husbands, rent a home in the Hamptons for a weekend break, but the sexual tension reaches boiling point and the innocent flirtation between the two reaches a nail-biting crescendo.
This second act dials down the comedy significantly, although there is one short scene in which the husbands appear as old men and sing about their teeth being in a glass. But the strength of this half of Romance Romance lies in the whole will they, won’t they scenario, I think it’s clear the audience hope they will.
Alex Lodge and Ryan Anderson give superb performances as Sam and Jeremy, with both giving incredibly moving solo numbers. The move from this being a male and female couple makes it feel more genuine, with far more at stake for the protagonists.
David Shield’s design works well in the space. The orchestra sit behind the main thrust of the stage, surrounded by a proscenium which transforms from Vienna to chic Hampton’s modern. The score still feels modern and flows well between comedic numbers and more tender ballads.
Writer, Barry Harman, says that despite the gender switches, about 96% of the production is the same as what was staged on Broadway, although we can safely assume the reference to power bottoms falls in to the other four percent. What is clear though is that the theme of love is just as relevant, and possibly even heightened, with this all male cast.
Just like the current production of Company, this musical is also significantly improved by the gender switching of two of the actors. The first act, whilst hugely enjoyable at the time finds itself put in the shade by the more compelling second act, but it is the performances of the four cast members which makes Romance Romance a wonderfully enjoyable piece of theatre.