It's summer and romance is in the air -- or at least in the air surrounding the University Theatre's first summer production: "Romance Romance."
Directed and choreographed by John Staniunas, "Romance Romance" is a frothy bit of fun that manages to remind us of all those secret, frivolous, embarrassing but earnest romantic impulses to which we are, at one time or another, susceptible.
"Romance Romance" bills itself as "Two New Musicals" because it is two one-act shows linked by the same cast and theme. In Act I, the four actors play characters in 19th-century Vienna; in Act II, they are two couples on vacation in the Hamptons.
In Vienna, Josefine (Julia Hardin) is a sophisticated woman just left by Emil (Eric Avery). Out to meet someone interesting, Josefine disguises herself as a struggling seamstress and hopes to encounter a new kind of man.
Alfred (Dylan Hilpman), a wealthy gad-about, is sick of his frivolous friends, so he puts on his oldest clothes and sets off to the park, pretending to be an artist, hoping to meet a new kind of woman.
The faux seamstress and artist revel in the lies they tell one another about how poor they are, throwing themselves into the romantic fairy tale of their affair. Although each eventually discovers a love for the other, each also tires of pretending.
In Act I, Avery and Ashley Lafond play various male and female characters as well as masked dancers, twirling their way through the scenes of Josefine and Alfred's affair, symbolically representing the romance. Like the dancers, Alfred and Josefine are wearing masks, and their liaison is a beautiful dance in which they can be absorbed only until the music stops. Avery and Lafond's fine dancing is an exquisite corollary to the lovers' relationship.
The musical is operetta-like, and the songs advance the plot, revealing the characters' personalities and motivations. Hardin and Hilpman are very adept at performing these character-driven songs. Hardin's "The Night It Had to End" is full of subtle details that exactly demonstrate Josefine's conflicted emotions.
The Hamptons sequence is the less interesting of the two acts, ironically because the characters are more familiar. Married to other people, Sam (Hilpman) and Monica (Hardin) are obsessed with the familiar question: Can a man and woman be platonic friends? The end of Act II reinforces an idea postulated in Act I: Romance is unrealistic, extravagant and completely impractical in the real world; however, one should never completely abandon one's "romantic notions."
Avery and Lafond's singing talents are revealed in Act II. Especially strong is their duet "Small Craft Warnings." Although some of Act II's music is less than memorable, "Words He Doesn't Say," performed by Hilpman, plows some deep emotional furrows, revealing the loss of romance in marriage as a source of pain and separation.
Staniunas utilizes the Stage Too! space, placing the audience on the stage of Crafton-Preyer Theatre. Seated on the stage's revolve, the audience is turned from scene to scene; the various sets are stationary. This movement reinforces the feeling that these romantic events are transitory.
Sandy Applehoff's impressive costumes are effective, especially in the Vienna scenes. They aid the actors in putting on or shedding the various characters or disguises assumed throughout the show. Del Unruh's scenic and lighting design adds wonderful dimension to the Vienna scenes, creating impressions of the city by screen projection; and the musicians directed by Michael Johnson carry the weight of this music-heavy production with considerable aplomb.
The show continues through July 3. For ticket information, call 864-3982.