Seldom are the stories of the people behind the scenes as compelling as those of their limelight counterparts. For instance, we have all heard of Steven Spielberg but we know much more about the actors in his award-winning movies than of the man himself. The same is true for Marvin Hamlisch – a name I had never heard but whose music I know well. I Finally Found Someone, he wrote that, the music from A Chorus Line, him again and Barbara Streisand’s The Way We Were, you guessed it, composed by Marvin Hamlisch.
In fact, by his early 30’s he had already won 3 Oscars, 4 Emmy’s, 4 Grammy’s, 2 Golden Globes, a Tony and a Pulitzer, so it’s safe to say a show in his honour was in order.
Written and directed by Jonathan Rouxmouth and Alan Swerdlow, the two-man show starring Jonathan as well as Sharon Spiegel-Wagner has to go down as one of my new favourites in musical theatre. In the programme, Jonathan writes that it was Marvin’s menschedik character – that’s decent and honourable for those of you that don’t speak Yiddish – that inspired the story and set the tone for the show. And they sure did the man justice. Light, funny and heartwarming all rolled into two hours of incredible piano-playing, witty dialogue and superb vocals. The show highlights the late composer’s many achievements as well as the relationships with the women in his life – his mother, Carly Simon, Barbara Streisand and his wife Terre Blair to name a few.
Speaking of Marvin’s many women, Sharon Spiegel-Wagner plays all of them. The girl must have had 40 costume changes, including wigs! Now that’s impressive. In addition to her ability to morph into multiple characters for sometimes no more than a minute or two, the actress had the difficult role of providing the context against which the story could unfold. Without her, I’m Playing Your Song would be just another tribute show. But thankfully, it’s not; this heartening show had me laughing out loud, singing along and saying “awww” over and over.
For those of you who saw Jonathan in A Handful of Keys, the piano numbers are equally impressive, especially against Denis Hutchinson’s lighting and simple set design. The New York city skyline at dusk, flower-power colour bursts and photographs all play across what appears to be a wall of cardboard boxes set up to resemble an apartment wall display. Just enough to create a mood without distracting from the actors.
My only gripes? At certain points, I would have liked longer interactions between the two actors instead of the many quick entrances and exits. This goes for the songs too. While Jonathan sang alone most of the time and Sharon had three or four solo numbers, there was only one duet – I Finally Found Someone. It was so beautiful when the two of them sang together, I really wish there were more duets in the show.
I’m Playing Your Song is the show to kick-off your 2016. A must-see that will leave you with a sudden urge to listen to Barbara Streisand while downloading A Chorus Line for later viewing.
Playing at the Pieter Toerien theatre at Monte Casino, Joburg until 10 January and then from 13 January to 6 February at the Theatre on the Bay, Cape Town.