by Steven McKnight

August 5, 2008   

Rooms is the most emotionally real and authentic musical this reviewer has ever seen.  Imagine if Rent or Spring Awakening was condensed down to an intimate two person show and you’ll understand the appeal of this powerful rock romance.


Undoubtedly some of the realism derives from the fact that this story of two struggling singer-songwriters from Scotland is drawn from the real life of composer Paul Scott Goodman.  The smart book by Goodman and his wife, Miriam Gordon, contributes mightily.


Fresh from her triumph in Kiss of the Spider Woman, Nastascia Diaz gives a marvelous performance as Monica (”Don’t call me Mon!”), a fidgety young Jewish Scotswoman who dreams of musical stardom. “All I want is everything” and “the next thing is always the best thing” she sings in “Bring the Future Faster,” a rousing rocker that brings the house down.


Monica finds Ian (Doug Kreeger), an introverted hard drinking musician who escapes life’s unhappiness by working alone in the womb of his room in his parents’ house.  She persuades him to write music for her lyrics for a specially-commissioned bat mitzvah song.  The result, “Scottish Jewish Princess,” is a hilarious misfire that threatens to cost Monica her upcoming gig at the “Let My People Go-Go.”


Soon Monica’s energy and ambition help her drag a reluctant Ian from Glasgow to London, where they achieve success in the newly thriving punk scene (most of the musical occurs in 1977), and then to New York City.  Along the way, Ian can’t help falling in love with the optimistic and outgoing Monica.  As they approach a big break gig at the legendary nightclub CBGB, Ian’s drinking increases, threatening both their personal and professional relationships.


Nastascia Diaz and Doug Kreeger are splendid together.  They have a credible romantic chemistry and their Broadway voices blend well.  Diaz and Kreeger both emote wonderfully in dialogue and song, and every single moment between them feels honest.


Both Diaz and Kreeger handle the challenges of a Scottish brogue well.  They successfully modulate their performances, handling a book that smoothly moves from intensely emotional scenes to numerous funny moments.  Although Diaz is known for her outstanding dancing and vocal skills, she also proves herself a surprisingly deft comic actress.  Her endearing portrayal of Monica is both stirring and poignant.  Kreeger gives dimension to the quieter role of Ian and is riveting when dealing with his character’s personal demons.


Rooms is a very intimate musical that works especially well in the 125 seat MetroStage space.  Scott Schwartz’s skillful direction helps the actors establish powerful emotional moments while never letting the story drag.  Adam Koch’s set design, a weathered black brick loft, proves functional and versatile, and features an inconspicuous elevated space for the band that facilitates the acoustics.


The music is terrific.  The story never pauses long before we’re back on a rocking thrill ride in this nearly sung-through musical.  Goodman eschews standard Broadway rhythms to achieve a natural yet distinctive sound.  The lyrics are intelligent without trying to be overly clever.  Several of the sixteen songs are memorable, thanks in part to the fine five-piece band.  Conductor Jenny Cartney keeps the band tight on the faster numbers yet sensitive on the slower songs.


All of the production elements are top notch.  Several of the numbers get classic rock concert lighting treatment keyed to the beat.  This talented work by lighting director Herrick Goldman really amps up the excitement of the show.  Daniel Erdberg’s perfectly balanced sound design helps you enjoy the sense of being at a concert while still keeping the lyrics and dialogue understandable.  Alejo Vietti’s costume design is an authentic representation of what the hip crowd wore back in the day.


Rooms combines modern pop/rock musical sensibilities with classic romantic story featuring two flawed but appealing characters who you cannot help rooting for.  My only complaint was the lack of a cast recording after the show.  I guess I will just have to hurry back to MetroStage to catch Rooms again before it heads to Rochester and then, if the theatre gods are just, on to New York, London, and Glasgow.


§         ROOMS

§         Music and Lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman
Book by Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon
Directed by Scott Schwartz
Music Direction by Jesse Vargas

§         Presented and Co-Produced by MetroStage

§         Running Time:  1:20 (no intermission)

§         Where:  MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

§         When:  Though September 7, 2008 (Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 5:00 and 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.)

§         Tickets:  $40-$45

§         Info:    Tickets can be purchased through the box office [703-548-9044] or online