They’re Playing Our Song; with book by Neil Simon, music by Marvin Hamilisch, and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager; premiered on Broadway in 1979 and ran for almost two and a half years. It tells the story of the budding professional and personal relationship of composer Vernon Gersch (Jeremiah Kraniak) and lyricist Sonia Walsk (Brianne Dolney), which is partially based on the real relationship between Hamlisch and Sager. This is essentially a two person show, but each character is also joined by three “voices”, their own personal Greek chorus (Rachel Doriean, Yolandie Hamilton, Rebecca Smith, Zachary Bauer, Paul Jacobs, and Thad Van Tifflin). Bay City Players is presenting this musical to honor the late Hamlisch on what would be his 75th year and director Ric Roberts and music director Kevin Cole have a clear affection for this show.
Yolandie Hamilton, Rachel Doriean, Rebecca Smith
First and foremost, mention must be made to the fact that Kraniak is performing his role with only a week’s worth of rehearsal, after the production lost the actor originally cast in the role. I would guess that if the audience were not made aware of this beforehand, they might not have even noticed. Aside from a little hesitancy at certain moments Kraniak created a very believable character and he and Dolney established a nice rapport with one another.
Jeremiah Kraniak and Brianne Dolney
There are several reasons this show was a hit in its time. Simon was (and arguably still is) one of the most well-known comedic playwrights and Hamlisch and Bayer Sager have been responsible for some of the most well-known songs of the last quarter century. That being said, the show hasn’t aged very well. Simon gives his characters some very funny lines, which Kraniak and Dolney deliver with aplomb, but some of the bits are used a few too many times. This causes some of the scenes, particularly in the overly-long first act, to feel more like they were being performed as excuses for a few punchlines and less like an advancement of the story. The music, while beautiful and handled expertly by Kevin Cole on piano and his 11 piece orchestra, was staged by Roberts mostly as “stand and sing” ballads between our two leads. While there are no big production numbers within the show, the Voices joined our lead characters a number of times throughout which gave us a few chances for faster paced numbers, but some of the simple choreography became a bit repetitive.
Sound design by Tyler Leonard was top notch. The sound mix between a large orchestra and small cast can sometimes be a challenge and the band did occasionally overpower the voices, particularly when all eight actors were onstage, but that is a minor quibble when the rest was handled well. Lighting design by David Newsham allowed for a multitude of colors to be seen throughout, with only the occasional dark spot. Costume design by Joy Butler did a great job of simply evoking the time period without turning anything into a cliched “disco” look. Set design by Jerry Dennis gave us two rolling platforms that represented Vernon’s apartment, recording studio, and Sonia’s apartment. They were decorated with just enough 70s kitsch by Erin Frye and Debbi Patterson. While the platforms were constructed and worked well within the context of the show, the transitions getting them on and offstage affected the overall pace, with the first act in particular, feeling a bit slow.
Jeremiah Kraniak and Brianne Dolney
Observations aside, if you’re in the mood for some vintage tunes and a somewhat offbeat romantic comedy, Bay City Players might just be playing your song.
Jeremiah Kraniak and Zachary Bauer
Bay City Players production of They’re Playing Our Song will continue its run February 8-9 and 14-16, 2020. Curtain is at 7:30 PM Fridays and Saturday & Sunday matinees are at 3 PM. Tickets are on sale now for $20 adults; $10 students by visiting the box office, calling 989-835-5555, or online at baycityplayers.com
All photos courtesy of Melissa Martin