New Musical 'Rooms: A Rock Romance' Really ROCKS!!

 

by Charles Shubow

August 6, 2008

 

Baltimore/Washington theater audiences have witnessed some ambitious and terrific new musical productions recently such as Nevermore and Saving Aimee at the Signature and the MetroStage presentation of The Stephen Schwartz Project.

Well, this little theater in Alexandria has done it again with Rooms: A Rock Romance which is getting its World Premiere at MetroStage. What a thrill it is to have witnessed this two person musical which was part of the 2005 New York Musical Festival.  Natascia Diaz originated the role of Monica in the NYMF workshop which was directed by Scott Schwartz. The two of them are united again at MetroStage.

Diaz is on a roll and is a star in the making. She played Aurora opposite Hunter Foster in the Signature's Kiss of the Spiderwoman. Her co-star in the two person opus is Doug Kreeger, fresh from the Signature's The Visit. Thanks to the expert direction of Schwartz (who also directed Diaz at the NYMF workshop), the two actors are compelling in this tale of struggling artists in 1977 Glasgow, Scotland. Schwartz has some good Off-Broadway pedigree having directed two successful musicals Bat Boy and tick tick BOOM.  His Broadway credentials include the wonderful Golda's Balcony and the musical Jane Eyre.

Schwartz uses incredible directing skills when one considers the set design includes a movable door and two chairs.  But, he sure is lucky to work with these two outstanding performers.

Rooms reminded me of Jason Robert Brown's wonderful Last Five Years, which also was a musical with just two characters. And just as in LFY, this story involves a relationship between a Catholic and a Jew. Here, there's Monica, an ambitious singer/songwriter who comes from a successful Jewish family. She heads to the other side of the tracks in an attempt to convince the Catholic Ian, a hard-drinking composer/guitarist, to put her lyrics to music.

You may think of the wonderful Irish film "Once" where you witness the process of a young man  with a guitar and woman on  the piano learning to write music together with hopes of getting to London. And it's a good comparison. Here, Monica and Ian hope to make it one day.

You'll hear some beautiful melodies starting with "Rooms", "Steps", and "The Music".

Ian confesses to Monica that he hates musicals "except West Side Story. I cry whenever Tony dies".

So, what is their first gig? Monica tells Ian she needs a melody for her lyrics for a Bat-Mitzvah girl. To Ian, a good Catholic, he has no idea what this means.

Ian heads to Monica's home and witnesses the warm family life that is missing in his life. While in Monica's bedroom, he listens while Monica sings a gorgeous tune to accompany her putting on her "Friday Night Dress".

Ian joins Monica's family and friends for the weekly Friday night Sabbath meal with chopped liver, chicken soup, and chicken. Ian adds, "the Kosher wine is surprisingly fine". 

Ian dons a skull cap at the Bat Mitzvah. Wait till you hear the clever lyrics to "Scottish Jewish Princess". The song ends with the wedding ritual of the breaking of the glass. This song may remind one of the Bar Mitzvah scene in the musical The Wedding Singer.

Ian takes Monica to one of his favorite night spots, The Rumpus Room, and wouldn't you know Monica and Ian win a singing contest and a trip to London, "Let's Go to London". This fun tune is followed by the wonderful "All I Want is Everything".  While in London, Ian and Monica become "The Diabolicals", a punk rock duo, become a hit, get a recording contract and soon they're on their way to New York City (after singing "Let's Leave London") and soon they've got a gig at CBGB's.  Things begin to unravel in New York due to Ian's problems with the bottle.

The punk rock gimmick gives way (thank goodness) and that's all I say.

Did I neglect to mention the two individuals responsible for this terrific musical? I saved them for last, the husband-and-wife team of Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon. The play is sort of a retelling of Goodman's escapade, a Jewish kid from Scotland who then via music heads to London and then New York. Goodman is responsible for the wonderful music and clever lyrics while Gordon collaborated on the story. 

Goodman is a gifted composer and in fact was the first recipient of the Songwriters' Hall of Fame Best New Songwriter Award. After you see the show, you'll want to buy the CD (I wish there was a recording.).

The two performers are backed by a terrific five piece band under the baton of Jenny Cartney (also on keyboards),  Steve Walker (guitar), Dave Boguslaw (guitar), Dennis Turner (bass) and Jon Jester (drums). Musical director is Jesse Vargas who is also responsible for the orchestrations and arrangements. Special mention must be paid to dialect advisor Doug Honorof who has the actors appear to be authentic Scots. There is also wonderful lighting by Herrick Goldman.

This World Premiere should not be missed and this 80 minutes intermissionless play flies by. MetroStage has themselves a real jewel. It's moving, funny, with a nice message at the end. Unknown to me, Goodman and Gordon happened to be sitting behind me. They couldn't miss how much I was enjoying their work.

Rooms continues until September 7. What a great way to celebrate the end of summer. For tickets, call 800-494-8497 or visit www.metrostage.org and www.roomsmusical.com.   To learn more about the two superb actors, visit www.NatasciaDiaz.com  and www.DougKreeger.com. For more on Goodman, visit www.myspace.com/PaulScottGoodman and www.PaulScottGoodman.com.

Rooms is a co-production with the GEVA Theatre Center in Rochester, NY where it will open on September 19.