‘Romance Romance’ is in the air

John Staniunas touts an unusual selling point for “Romance Romance,” a musical that opens the Kansas Summer Theatre season Friday night.

“Why go to Worlds of Fun when you can come to the University Theatre for literally the ride of your life?” says Staniunas, Kansas University professor of theater and film and director of the production.

Staniunas isn’t kidding about “literally:” An unorthodox stage design will make its interactive debut on the Crafton-Preyer Theatre stage with “Romance Romance.”

“Audience members will be seated on the stage, where they will rotate around the actors and scenes on a revolve that is built into the floor,” Staniunas says. “People shouldn’t worry, though: I promise it will be a gentle ride.

“It should just allow for the audience to feel like they are accompanying the actors through the story.”

A couple of stories, to be exact.

“Romance Romance” is a two-part show that focuses on tales of discontented love in different time periods.

The musical opens with “The Little Comedy,” which is set in 19th-century Vienna, Austria. Two strangers, Alfred and Josephine, are unhappy with their lives. He is a wealthy young man, accustomed to women wanting him for his money; she, by comparison, is a woman used to chasing well-funded men. Both are tired of the games that accompany their roles.

Alfred and Josephine try to remedy their problems by dressing down and strolling through the park, hoping for something different to happen. When they meet, she pretends to be a poor girl, working in a millinery shop. He tells her he is a starving poet. Each quickly falls in love with the other’s false persona.

What: “Romance Romance,” a musical with lyrics by Barry Harman and music by Keith HermannWhen: 7:30 p.m. June 25-26, 29-30 and July 1-3; 5 p.m. June 27Where: Crafton-Preyer Theatre, Murphy HallTickets: Adults, $12; seniors, $11; students, $10; children, $6Ticket info: 864-3982 or kutheatre.com

The second act, “Summer Share,” is set in modern times. Two couples — both appearing to be happily married — rent a summer cottage in the Hamptons together. The comedy focuses on best friends Monica and Sam, who maintain a platonic relationship until one night when their spouses retire to bed. Left alone, the pair decide they are proof that men and women can be friends, but the unseen “ghosts” of their spouses aren’t so sure, and tension mounts as the friends realize they are interested in more than talking.

“Romance Romance” is performed entirely with four actors, an unusual feature that presents certain challenges, Staniunas says.

“Certainly, the actors must memorize much more — each is responsible for a quarter of the play,” Staniunas says.

Julia Hardin, a 2004 KU graduate, plays Josephine and Monica in the production. Hardin says extensive wardrobe changes — she wears six different dresses throughout the two acts — keep her on her toes.

“You have to move fast with only four actors, but the intimate type of performance is really neat,” she says.

The long-running Kansas Summer Theatre program is a joint venture between KU’s theater and film department and the University Theatre. The program’s second summer play, Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer,” opens July 16.