They're Playing Our Song Book. By Neil Simon. Composer Marvin Hamlisch. Lyrics By Carole Bayer Sager. Musical Director Alistair Smith. Choreography By Alana Scanlan. Directed By Terence O'connell. Hit Productions. The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. Until April 5. theq.net.au
When uptight composer Vernon Gersch (Scott Irwin) meets lyricist Sonia Walsk (Teagan Wouters), whose idea of punctuality can involve being not 20 minutes late but a whole day, you know it's going to be an odd coupling.
The real-life relationship of composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager is said to have inspired this tense combination. With Neil Simon writing the script, however, any tensions and sadness are balanced with laughter and an ironic look at human relationships.
This production is a scaled-down version for touring that omits a chorus of six dancing-and-singing alter egos for Vernon and Sonia, and focuses on the central tussle. Not only is Sonia habitually late, she is also lumbered with the unceasing demands of her never-seen ex-boyfriend, Leon. Irwin's gangling and self-centred Vernon is also a challenge, but Wouters' energetic, blunt Sonia is his match.
Whether that match means a happy ending is what provides the tension of the piece. Both Irwin and Wouters handle the ''will they/won't they'' convolutions of the plot with ease. They do likewise with the dancing and the songs, which range from romantic to humorous. I did not find them particularly memorable (unless you count the fun the title song has with the double meaning of ''our song'' when the show is about a couple of songwriters), but they are agreeable enough and do allow a bit of introspection.
The set has an evocative New York skyline complete with a mini Empire State Building, but there's a lot of set changing traffic between scenes. It's worth wondering whether the omitted chorus might have had a dramatic and practical function here as well, as giving a little more insight into what is going on in the heads of Vernon and Sonia.
However, it's mostly an amusing night of musical theatre made better by Irwin and Wouters' seasoned performances and by the Neil Simon script. It may not be the strongest or deepest of his works, but the difficulties of the characters are treated with sensitivity. And any piece that can make real an offstage character such as the needy, clutching Leon is worth a look.