At The Theater Barn: 'They're Playing Our Song' is a forte exercise


NEW LEBANION, N.Y. -- In the right hands, the lightweight Neil Simon-Marvin Hamlisch-Carole Bayer Sager musical, "They’re Playing Our Song," can be a real charmer; a bouncy, tuneful tale about a songwriting duo -- he a successful composer; she a talented young singer-lyricst who has yet to make a big name for herself.

Unfortunately, the right hands -- and feet for that matter -- are nowhere to be found at The Theater Barn where this 1979 musical is in the second weekend of a two-weekend run.

Inspired by the real-life professional and personal relationship beween Hamlisch and Sager, Neil Simon’s book traces the professional and personal relationship between a somewhat uptight but hugely successful tunesmith, Vernon Gersch (Ryan Halsaver), who is, in his personal life, relationship-challenged, and Sonia Walsk (Caitlin Lester-Sams), an idiosyncratic lyricist who dresses in hand-me-down stage costumes and can’t let go of a too-longstanding codependent relationship with an overly needy. never-seen friend named Leon, whose absence from the stage, given Halsaver and Lester-Sams’ overbearing performances, is unfortunate.

"They’re Playing Our Song" follows Sonia and Vernon as they collaborate on a series of songs for renowned popular artists, write a hit for Johnny Mathis, fall in and out of bed, and try to negotiate the balance between their professional synchronicity and personal discordance.

Halsaver comes at the role of Vernon like a runaway bulldozer. Every mood, every temperament -- from anger and frustration to relative happiness and contetment -- is played at fevered pitch, making Vernon cheerless, charmless, and insincere.

The high-pitched, scratchy- voiced Caitlin-Sams is only marginally more convincing in a performance that shows some emotional range and variation. Her wardrobe is far too drab for her idiosyncratic personality, which gets in the way of getting a clear read on Sonia; how she comes into her own as an artist and in her personal life as "They’re Playing Our Song" progresses.

The uncredited choreography is, at best, cumbersome, awkward and unimaginative -- emblematic of a production that needs far more nimbleness and lightness of being than is evidenced here.


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