THEATER: 'Rooms' filled with nostalgia, hope and love

 

Jayne Blanchard

Friday, August 8, 2008

 

 

“Rooms, a rock romance," a winning world-premiere musical about love, ambition and safety pins at MetroStage. Directed with unruly aplomb by Scott Schwartz, it features a five-piece rock band kicking out the jams onstage.

 

It was only a matter of time before punk and new wave became fodder for boomer nostalgia - can Billy Idol playing Branson, Mo., be far behind? - and "Rooms" reveals that husband-and-wife team Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon possess an authentic feel for the zeitgeist of the late '70s and early '80s, even when the songs are tongue-in-cheek tributes to snarly affectation and feedback.

 

What is rather wild and unexpected is that although the musical influences may be the Damned and the Stooges, the show clearly is inspired by the establishment movie musicals "Funny Girl" and "A Star Is Born."

 

The 90-minute tale is semiautobiographical, tracing Mr. Goodman's musical path from Glasgow, Scotland, to London to Manhattan during the time when the Clash was king. "Rooms" adds a boi-meets-grrl twist in the opposite-attracts romance between Ian, a reclusive and hard-drinking guitarist hottie, and Monica, a nice Jewish girl-songwriter from Glasgow who packs more brass and ambition in her petite frame than Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler combined.

 

Even the pheromone-challenged could predict the trajectory of this pairing. Yet Miss Diaz (a powerhouse performer whose vocals sometimes evoke those of the late Kirsty MacColl) and Mr. Kreeger (both tortured and magnetic as Ian) bring such unflagging enthusiasm and intensity to the material you find yourself surprisingly moved by the note of rueful hope struck at the end.

 

The lure of "Rooms" lies in the punk-pop power of the 17-song cycle, which ranges from the adrenaline rush of "Bring the Future Faster" (an exhilarating update of "Don't Rain on My Parade") and the soulful lament "Steps" to the rueful charms of "Fear of Flying."

 

The song "Scottish Jewish Princess" - Ian and Monica's hilarious first collaboration, written for a sexually confused girl's bat mitzvah - shows that novelty numbers don't have to be precious and shticky.

 

Sometimes the parodist nature of songs like "All I Want Is Everything" cannot overcome the fact that it sounds like Stiv Bators by way of Steve and Eydie. Even the most promising of rock musicals, such as "Rooms," often manage to sound like watered-down versions of the real thing, a phenomenon known as The "Rent" syndrome.

 

The Great White Way and anarchy in the U.K.? Strange bedfellows, indeed.

 

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WHAT: "Rooms: A Rock Romance," music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman, book by Mr. Goodman and Miriam Gordon

WHERE: MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Sept. 7.

TICKETS: $40 to $45

PHONE: 800/494-8497

WEB SITE: www.metrostage.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS