CEDAR CITY — The third installment in this year’s Neil Simon Festival in Cedar City is a musical with a script by Neil Simon, music by Marvin Hamlisch, and lyrics by Carole Sager entitled They’re Playing Our Song. Interestingly, this story is based on the real relationship between Hamlisch and Sager. The show revolves around two characters, a young lyricist and a composer who while working together have to learn to navigate not only working styles, but also the budding romance that develops.
Of all the shows at the Neil Simon Festival, this one had the most basic set. At first, this left me a little concerned, because I enjoy looking at a set and finding all the details that others may not notice. However, I found as the show continued I was more enthralled by the two characters and their chemistry to be worried much about set. I enjoyed how using just the bare minimum actually added to the depth that the characters brought to the show. One example of this is a scene where they characters are driving in a car. The choices the actors make with moments and minimal props were interesting and would not have worked as well in a larger set environment.
In addition to the two main characters, there were six minor characters providing both back up music and doubling as stage crew by making all the set changes. While doing so, they would often be campy in their portrayal, and sometimes the six minor players would upstage the two main characters. I think I understand the reasoning behind this staging choice of director Robert Hill. However as an audience member, I preferred the main story line and did not feel the distraction of the background characters was necessary.
It can be very difficult to carry an entire show on the backs of just two people. Luckily, Alex Allred as Vernon Gersh and Tatum Trotter as Sonia Walsh were a phenomenal match for such a challenge. Trotter has a very strong and pleasant voice, and she shined in all the songs she sang, especially the very emotional “I Still Believe In Love” in the second act. Trotter portrayed Walsh with such happiness and enthusiasm that when the story suddenly turned sad and emotional plot line, the result was astounding.
Allred was also believable as a somewhat reserved yet intensely talented composer. Having a few friends who fall in that category, I would say that the most believable character moment for Allred was during the song “They’re Playing Our Song” early in the first act. The moment Vernon hears his song in the club, Allred accurately portrayed the feeling that one gets when something they have created is given the importance and credit its creator believes it deserves. This was probably one of my favorite moments of the show, as Vernon lit up and Allred became one with his character and the moment. It paid homage to the creation of art, and truly showed the audience what it must feel like to see an artist’s creation come to life. Moments like that are why live theater is so important.
In short, They’re Playing Our Song at the Neil Simon Festival was everything that a show of this nature should be: an intimate evening with two actors and the story they want to tell.