A Review of Romance/Romance

by Meghan D’Souza
 

Photo by Emily McKnight

Iowa City – Lean in, I’ve got a secret. I’ve had a long week and wasn’t sure that I was in the mood for two one act musicals. On a normal day, I’m excited to see a play or musical that I’ve not heard of, but on Friday? My brain was on cruise control and wanted to be spoon fed something familiar in a familiar format:

Enter theatre.
Sit.
Watch.
Become engaged.
Enjoy a cookie during intermission.
Consider favorite parts, why they are favorites, and what I hope to see more of in second act.
Sit.
Watch.
Contemplate feelings of play.


In my grouchy state, I entered ICCT feeling restless and hoping that the performance of Romance/Romance was stellar. I couldn’t put my finger on what “stellar” meant, but that’s okay. The cast of a mere four in these two musicals showed me what I needed to see to lift me out of my funk and enjoy my evening.

The first story takes place in Europe in 1901. Tired of their misadventures in love, two aristocrats disguise themselves as commoners before meeting and falling in love. The musical is spent watching them contemplate how to confess their true identities.

Colin Nies and Stephanie Fahey carried the bulk of the story along seamlessly as main characters Alfred and Josefine. The most important part of a musical is, of course, the ability to sing, and the pair gifted the audience’s ears with their beautiful voices. From singing upbeat songs that energized the audience like, “I’ll Always Remember the Song,” to ballads that pulled at the heartstrings like, “The Night It had to End,” the pair showed off their range and ability to exude emotion through song. While we’re on the topic of music, I have to make sure to give a nod to the talented orchestra who accompanied the actors.

Photo by Emily McKnight

Brett Borden and Kristina Rutkowski added to this story as supporting characters during the scenes and as dancers during scene changes. Dressed in white clothing with white masks, their well-choreographed dances reiterated the masquerade that the couple was putting on.

The set design for Act I was somewhat simple, with great attention spent on details. One half of the stage was devoted to Alfred’s character with a chaise lounge placed before a dresser and masculine decor against a decorated wall. The other half was Josefine’s space, with a vanity sitting before a wardrobe filled with clothes. When the couple was together, they stood center stage.

Act II was a story about two married best friends who flirted with disaster by flirting with each other and nearly crossing the line while on vacation in the Hamptons in the 1980s. The new set was displayed to us at the end of intermission by opening the walls of the old set to expose the interior of a house in the Hamptoms decorated with ’80s decor. This, combined with the foursome singing an energized “Summer Share” felt like a grand way to begin the next story and prepared the audience for an engaging, though taboo, story. Again, Nies and Fahey carried much of the musical as the flirtatious best friends, Sam and Monica, while Borden and Rutkowski made many well-executed appearances as their suspicious spouses, Lenny and Barb. With clever lighting and blocking, it was understood that Borden and Rutkowski were often on stage as the pair’s conscience, and guilt about their flirtation filled the room.

Photo by Emily McKnight

My concern before watching Act II was that it would feel like we were watching the same play, just in present day. That wasn’t the case. All four actors were able to encompass their new characters without difficulties. The audience could easily accept that these four people were now Sam, Monica, Barb, and Lenny, as simply as if we had changed channels on TV and were watching a new show with new people. That was very impressive and speaks highly of the actors’ talents.

In a nutshell, the plots are captivating, the actors are highly talented, the music is fun, and director Jaret Morlan did an exceptional job putting together this musical. I walked in grouchy and left entertained.

The show runs through May 3. Tickets are available here

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