By Joe DiPietro; Directed by Kathleen Marshall
Broadway, New Play
Runs through 7.31.15
Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street
by Molly Marinik on 4.26.15
Renée Fleming and Jerry O'Connell in Living on Love. Photo by Jane Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: This mild-mannered farce about the extravagant lifestyles of two opera singers in the mid-1950s is a pleasant two hour distraction.
As carefully calculated as the most meticulous symphony, Living on Love is directed and performed with absolute precision. Marks are hit, joke timing is calibrated, and pacing is pristine. Joe DiPietro’s new comedy, an adaptation of Garson Kanin’s Peccadillo, comes to Broadway after a successful run at the Williamstown Theatre Festival last summer, with nearly its full cast in tact. And it’s clear these actors know exactly what they’re doing in this tepid farce.
"The Maestro" (Douglas Sills) and "The Diva" (opera sensation Renee Fleming) are a cantankerous middle-aged married couple, each finding their professional status in question. Once renowned, they now fear their careers are heading south. The Maestro wants to write an autobiography, and he gets an advance from the publisher to do just that. But his ghost writers keep quitting due to his overbearingly indulgent attitude and general malaise to getting the job done. Robert (Jerry O’Connell) is the latest writer to head out the door, only to be wooed back by a vengeful Diva, who hires Robert to write her own autobiography. Robert is a massive fan of the Diva’s, so he complies. Not to be outdone, the Maestro taps young and eager editorial assistant Iris (Anna Chlumsky) to write his own book.
From there (mostly cheap) laughs abound. The Diva and the Maestro use their writers as pawns in a jealously match against one another, and Robert and Iris begin to develop feelings for one another. The audience is so far ahead of the script one could get a sizable nap in without missing anything. In spite of the predictability – or perhaps because of it – a late twist involving the butlers Bruce (Blake Hammond) and Eric (Scott Robertson) proves to be the most exciting moment of the play.
There are several enjoyable musical moments sprinkled throughout. Fleming is given opportunities to sing (the Diva is one for showing off whenever possible) and it's a treat to hear an opera icon perform, even if only in short spurts. Also completely entertaining is the use of the butlers to set the stage between scenes. Hammond and Robertson are also musically trained and their talents are used well in the production: as they strike props and set up for the next scene, they sing along to a record, play the grand piano, and duet with one another.
Kathleen Marshall’s direction allows for this farce to milk all of its delightfully silly moments. And there are plenty of opportunities. My fellow Wednesday matinee audience members howled with laughter, clearly quite entertained. Sills’ ridiculous Italian accent is perfectly exaggerated, and his comic timing ensures that every joke lands just as it should. There's a funny bit with a maple syrup hair gel quick-fix. Even the Diva's tiny dog even gets a little stage time.
Yet for all of its witty lines and absurd situations, Living on Love never really feels authentic – not to a 1950s comedy or to a 21st century viewpoint on such. Instead, it lives in a carefully constructed façade of a world. Because of this, it’s hard to really care about the characters. I watched the play at arms length, I was entertained, and I left. For opera fans, the subject matter might hit closer to home. And it's certainly fun to see Fleming take on a different kind of role. Living on Love is performed and produced with verve and enthusiasm, but it plays it entirely too safe to ever really sing.
(Living on Love plays at the Longacre Theater, 220 West 48th Street, through July 31, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays at 7, Wednesdays at 2 and 7, Thursdays at 7, Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 2 and 8, and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $25-$145 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200.)