On June 9th The Guthrie Theater premiered ROMAN HOLIDAY, a musical rendition of the classic Audrey Hepburn film. The plot features a frustrated and bored Princess Anne escaping her regimented advisors for some fun on the town during an international diplomatic tour. The princess meets a dashing silver fox of a newspaperman who takes her out in the city of love. However, the kindly Joe Bradley is also covertly planning to print a newspaper exclusive on their shenanigans. Of course, dastardly conflict arises the two realize that they've actually taken a liking to one another. If only real love were so dependable.
The biggest change in the stage version is that the show is a musical. Featuring songs written by Cole Porter, the production includes zesty dance numbers and jaunty song sequences catchy enough to elicit a covert shimmy from the odd audience member. There's no shortage of exquisite voices. Stephanie Rothenberg sings gorgeously as Princess Anne, Edward Watts warbles with charisma as Joe Bradley, and the rest of the cast follows suit. Though there are a few too many songs for my taste they are all well-executed and artful.
The dancing in this production is a special treat. Choreographer Alex Sanchez sculpts a twisty, turny, saucy delight with his swing moves. Additionally, the dance montages designed to portray Rome are amusing and acrobatic. The dancing in the show is joyous, expressive and engaging and will have audiences over their shimmy limit… if one could even imagine such a thing.
Another of the show's strong points are the sassy Christina Baldwin and Jim Stanek who knock it out of the park as Francesca, an Italian lounge singer, and Irving, a newspaper photographer/philanderer. Well-timed jokes, physical comedy and lovable sarcasm polish their repartee to a blinding gleam the likes of which have been known to cause afterimages.
Of course, no review would be complete without a comparison to the original ROMAN HOLIDAY and its starring lady. Audrey Hepburn is in possession of some sort of magic charm that we girls like to call 'annoying'. It's not that she, herself, is annoying, Rather, she is so perfectly adorable and so dazzlingly chic that it's annoying to watch her prance around Rome. But such is the beauty of theater. Only in fiction do we find such grandiose love stories. It is Audrey's charm that comes to mind when you hear ROMAN HOLIDAY and her distinct echo that remains after.
It's monumental work to live up to Hepburn's languid perkiness and Rothenberg does not quite meet the challenge. Though Rothenberg's voice is stunning, her portrayal of Princess Anne is a bit shrill. She comes off overeager and grating. The show also starts to drag a little after intermission when it's time to really get down to the love story. It's hard to stop watching the twirling skirts and free-wheeling sidekicks to actually get interested in the little love affair.
Despite these shortcomings the show comes highly recommended. Theatergoers should be jumping out of their boots to skedaddle down to the McGuire Proscenium Stage before the show's finale on August 19th.