Neil Simon’s “They’re Playing Our Song” is a semi-autobiographical story of the relationship between Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager from the time of their earliest collaboration. The fact that the music for the show is by Hamlisch and the lyrics by Sager makes it part of the Neil Simon catalogue that not only do you want to see, but you really want to see performed with depth and talent. The production at Bay City Players provides both.
Zachary Bauer, Thad VanTifflin, Paul Jacobs,Rebecca Smith, Yolandie Hamilton, Rachel Doriean
It is worth saying at the onset that the original lead actor for this show stepped away only seven days prior to the writing of this review. The Artistic Director/Conductor of the Saginaw Choral Society, Jeremiah Kraniak, stepped into this role and was, I can only say, amazing. He played the “Hamlisch” role, Vernon Gersch, with depth and understanding of the role, brought the vocal talent needed for the musical numbers, and in general seemed as if he had been with the production from the beginning.
An outstanding choice by director Ric Roberts was the casting of Brianne Dolney as Sonia Walsk, the “Carole Sager” of the story. I have seen Dolney play roles on the stages of all of the major regional community theatres and I can say without question that this was my favorite role, out of many great roles that she has played. Throughout the evening we were treated not only to her beautiful renditions of the iconic songs, but her interpretation and nuance of Walsk was spot on. This combined with the willingness of Kraniak to bring his talent to the stage with short notice, created a marvelous relationship between the two roles.
Brianne Dolney and Jeremiah Kraniak
The ensemble in this show was also very talented and funny, although their direct engagement with the audience was a bit confusing given the nature of our role as observers. Nonetheless, their vocal talents, and their comic timing added fun to the overall story.
Brianne Dolney, Rachel Doriean, Yolandie Hamiliton, and Rebecca Smith
While the show starts with what might be the longest pre-show announcement I’ve heard in a long time, the only real distraction for me and the audience sitting around me, came from the upstairs booth. I mention this specifically because it impacted the show experience. Every applause point was started in the booth with the occasional vocal whoop or other response to the actors on stage. While this activity is a common instinct for directors when shows have low attendance or energy, with the full house of opening night, it robbed the audience of the opportunity to organically respond on their own. I can say without hesitation that this show is strong enough to elicit authentic audience reaction which would be more fulfilling to the audience and, I imagine, to the cast as well.
The combination of staging by Roberts and set design by Jerry Dennis was seamless. I truly loved the set and the mechanisms by which scene changes occurred. The set decoration by Erin Frye and Debbi Patterson, in collaboration with Roberts and everybody else who had a role in construction, was near flawless. The set, in combination with skilled lighting (by David Newsham) and sound (by Tyler Leonard) made the show visually very interesting. Also, my favorite gag during the entire show is the scene where the car dies on the road, so kudos also to Stage Manager Jeanne Cadena who had a set of precision calls to make and did so exactly as needed.
Brianne Dolney and Jeremiah Kraniak
This was not only a very entertaining evening, but it is well times in the season as it could be part of a fun Valentine's date night. "They're Playing Our Song" continues this evening, with a matinee on the 9th, evening performances on February 14th & 15th, and an additional matinee on February 16th. You really should get tickets soon by going to www.baycityplayers.com.
All photos courtesy of Melissa Martin