A charming little ragtime ditty called “Splash” segues into a full-Monty skinny-dipping scene, complete with onstage pond and male actors cavorting in the buff.
This nifty Act 2 number isn’t a shocker in 5th Avenue Theatre’s decorous, well-crafted staging of “A Room with a View,” a revised and refurbished 2012 musical aiming for Broadway.
The nudity is fleeting and in innocent good humor. And this ambitious, lopsided show needs some refreshing and cavorting after a first act drenched in breathless neo-romanticism.
The delights of “Splash” put in relief the difficulties of a musical that shifts between the two physical and emotional milieus (Italy and England) of its source material: E.M. Forster’s droll, luminous 1908 novel (and the much admired 1985 film adaptation of same).
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Two years after its San Diego debut, “Room with a View” sports a breathtakingly arboreal new scenic design by Walt Spangler, an able new director (5th Avenue artistic head David Armstrong), and a cast dominated by fine Seattle actor-singers.
Composer-lyricist Jeffrey Stock’s lushly orchestral score includes lovely arias and choral pieces, and draws knowingly on Italian opera, popular period music and the oeuvres of Broadway masters Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.
And in the livelier Act 2, writer Marc Acito exploits the sardonic Shavian comedy that interlaces Forster’s spring-awakening romance between proper young Lucy Honeychurch (Laura Griffith) and free-spirited, soulful George Emerson (Louis Hobson).
But while Forster’s novel and the Merchant-Ivory film found the right balance of Italia and Brittania, Acito and Stock have practically created two separate musicals. One is a fervently sentimental depiction of pent-up Edwardians abroad seduced by Italy’s passionate engagement with la vita bella.
Even staid Charlotte (Patti Cohenour), Lucy’s hovering escort (and, here, her guardian), and the prissy Reverend Beebe (Richard Gray) succumb to Firenze’s sensuous charms. And when uptight Lucy lets her guard down in a gorgeous field of violets,
the music swells and she’s swept into an ardent embrace.
From its opening canzone d’amore, a pretty aria titled “Non Fate Guerra” (“Do Not Fight the Spring”), sung by archetypal “rustic” lovers (Jadd David and Jenny Shotwell), “Room with a View” aims to sweep us off our feet, too.
But the carpe diem exhortations of George’s wise, ailing, radical dad (Allen Fitzpatrick), the Firenze travelogue “The Music of the Street,” and the intricate octet reprise of “Non Fate Guerra” that freezes the narrative with communal yearning, add up to a very large serving of rich cannoli pastry.
At another point, buttoned-up Lucy, whose only emotional vent is pounding out Beethoven piano sonatas, pours her suppressed libido into “Ludwig and I,” an over-the-top fantasy out of a comic operetta.
The show is on much surer footing when it relocates to Windy Corner, the bucolic English country home Lucy shares with her genial kid brother Freddy (Matt Owen) and prim Charlotte.
Caught between Hobson’s impassioned misfit George (whose solo numbers soar), and her arch-twit aesthete of a fiancé, Cecil (Will Reynolds), Griffith’s Lucy has more to engage with (and sing about). And there’s nothing like British class snobbery to brighten up the dialogue.
Even Cohenour’s Charlotte articulately expresses her frustrations, in “Failed, Failed, Failed.” And the life-affirming finale, “There Is a Yes,” tellingly ends in Britain — not Italy, where the novel closes.
At 2½ hours, “Room with a View” hasn’t quite sorted itself out yet, or found ways to seduce us without excess. But it is blessed with a skilled cast, smooth direction and the superior production values in Spangler’s sumptuous sets, Tom Sturge’s painterly lighting and Deborah Trout’s period costumes.
Misha Berson: email@example.com