Theater Review: ‘Do I Hear A Waltz?’

May 15, 2016 2:27 pm Last Updated: May 16, 2016 5:07 pm

NEW YORK—Being in a relationship can be difficult enough, but when one person wants something special and lasting and the other just wants a romantic fling, it’s hard for the twain to meet. The rarely-seen 1965 musical “Do I Hear a Waltz?” covers this ground.

With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and the book by Arthur Laurents, the musical had a brief return to the stage as part of the Encores! series at New York City Center. It’s based on Arthur Laurents’s play “The Time of the Cuckoo.”

Melissa Errico shone as a woman looking for a last chance at love.

Leona Samish (Melissa Errico), a 40-something unmarried secretary who has never found someone to love, is vacationing in Venice. Staying at the Pensione Fioria, she quickly ingratiates herself into the company of the other Americans there. These include Eddie and Jennifer Yeager (Claybourne Elder, Sarah Hunt), a young couple with marital problems; and the elderly Mr. and Mrs. McIllhenny (Richard Poe, Nancy Opel).

While Leona bonds with this group, in a city where couples seem to be all around, she continually finds herself the odd person out.

Things change when she meets shopkeeper, Renato Di Rossi (Richard Troxell). Flattered by his attention and delighted at the prospect, Leona finds herself falling for him—that is, until she learns he already has a wife.

Di Rossi has long been in a loveless marriage, and Leona is not his first fling out of wedlock, nor likely his last.

Eddie (Claybourne Elder) and Jennifer Yeager (Sarah Hunt), a young couple with marital problems, hope for a magical solution. (Joan Marcus)
Jennifer Yeager (Sarah Hunt) and Eddie (Claybourne Elder), a young couple with marital problems, hope for a magical solution. (Joan Marcus)

Initially upset with Di Rossi for keeping the truth from her, Leona soon begins to warm to his belief that one must find happiness when and where one can. However, it becomes apparent that even causal flings carry unspoken promises, which Leona finds herself on the verge of breaking.

Both satirical and surprisingly poignant, “Do I Hear a Waltz?” highlights the differences in cultural attitudes on the subjects of relationships and fidelity. Di Rossi makes very strong points about the moral hypocrisy of Americans—as to how it’s okay to cheat on one’s spouse so long as one feels bad about it afterwards. In Venice such a thing was generally tolerated, as long as it was discreet.

As Jennifer and Eddie’s action’s clearly show, however, it takes more than the promise of faithfulness to keep a marriage strong. Running off to the movies when things get rough, or planning to head back to America in the hope things will improve with a change of scenery do not work.

Though “Do I Hear a Waltz?” is rather lightweight, it really didn’t feel dated that much. Many parts of the show felt quite relevant. In one scene the horrors of airline travel were illustrated in musical number, which drew chuckles and knowing nods of sympathy from the audience.

The cast of "Do I Hear a Waltz?" (Joan Marcus)
The cast of “Do I Hear a Waltz?” (Joan Marcus)

On a more serious note, the musical made a very important point about love. Before people can truly love anyone else, they must first learn to love themselves. It’s a lesson only one character seems to truly learn before the final curtain.

Both Rodgers and Sondheim had noted their collaboration was not a happy one.  Indeed, their musical styles seemed at odds with each other, and with the story itself at times. For example, Leona sang about the joys of being in Venice in the rather flat opening number. Yet the score still hit the mark more than it missed.

And Sondheim’s lyrics reveal themes that he would explore in later shows, such as in “We’re Gonna Be All Right,” sung by Elder and Hunt. It explored their characters’ relationship and the hope for a sort of “magical thinking” to fix all their problems.

Errico shone as a woman looking for a last chance at love while wresting with the moral particulars of her situation with Di Rossi. Missing a life of her own due to having raised her younger siblings after their parents’ deaths, Leonia had it in her mind that she deserved “the moon” in a relationship, one completely pure and perfect, and pretty much impossible to find.

Her musical performances were excellent, with her delivery in “Here We Are Again,” a group number where she found herself the lone single person in a seemingly endless sea of couples, truly heartbreaking.

Troxell was fine as Di Rossi, who wanted to have a romantic assignation with Leona without too many complications. Having a strong stage presence and also well-paired with Errico, he was able to bring sympathy to his character. In his best number, the comedic “Bargaining,” he used his strong singing voice to demonstrate the art of negotiation in order to get the best possible price for a purchase.

Karen Ziemba did well as Signora Fioria, the owner of the Pensione. She’s a woman who’s seen it all and probably done most of it herself. She’s skilled at the art of charming tourists when they’re staying with her and then disparaging them to the next group who comes in.

Sarah Stiles offered some good comic relief as Giovanna, a young girl who works for Signora Fioria, but who would probably rather be anywhere else.

Elder and Hunt worked well as the Yeagers. They were sorts of an everyman couple stuck in a situation all too familiar to modern audiences.

Not a perfect musical, “Do I Hear a Waltz?” was nonetheless an enjoyable effort as it examined possibilities and endings that go hand in hand with people in the different stages of love.

Also in the cast were Zachary Infante, Michael Rosen, Kristine Bendul, Kristine Covillo, Jenny Laroche, Jennifer Locke, Nathan Madden, Skye Mattox, Devin Roberts, Manny Stark, and Alex Wong.

‘Do I Hear a Waltz?’
Encores! at City Center
131 W. 55th St.
Tickets: 212-581-1212 or NYCityCenter.org
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: May 14

Judd Hollander is a member of the Drama Desk and a reviewer for stagebuzz.com and theaterscene.net