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Entertainment : It's 'Romance/Romance' in Long Beach

January 20, 1994|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

New York swooned over "Romance/Romance" in 1988, when the musical leaped from the tiny off-off-Broadway Actor's Outlet to Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre. Bums, as the Brits say, filled seats, and Tony nominations weren't far behind.

So, why has it taken five years for the show, which opened last week at Long Beach's International City Theatre, to reach the Los Angeles area?

Author-lyricist Barry Harman thinks it was because of the demands of the leading role, originally filled by Scott ("Quantum Leap") Bakula. "There aren't a lot of Scott Bakulas out there," Harman said.

Composer Keith Herrmann thinks it was because of the negative--no, damning--reviews "R/R" received when it first reached the West Coast at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre in 1989.

Herrmann, talking by telephone from his Morristown, N.J., office, speculated that Los Angeles producers were deterred at that point from proceeding with another production. "Whatever the case," he says, "it didn't happen."

It is an oddity.

Consider that the musical was nominated for five Tonys, including best musical, best book, best score and best lead actor (Bakula) and actress (Alison Fraser). Consider next that the august competition included Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera," Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and Mbongeni Ngema's and Hugh Masekela's "Sarafina!" Then consider that all the others enjoyed modest to epic Los Angeles-area runs.

One can understand the astonishment of International City Theatre's resident director caryn morse when she discovered that "Romance/Romance" had never been staged here.

Sitting next to Harman in the living room of the Los Angeles hillside home of Harman's relatives, morse recalled that when she and the theater's artistic director, Shashin Desai, were assembling the upcoming season schedule in October, "It didn't take long to decide on this title. We said, 'Let's do it!' "

The show's attraction on paper, at least, is obvious. Harman splits the piece into two distinct but referential halves: the first, "The Little Comedy," based on the Arthur Schnitzler fin de siecle Viennese story of the same title; the second, "Summer Share," freely adapted to the '80s from "Pain de Menage" by Parisian boulevard theater playwright Jules Renard

The lovers in "Little Comedy" are idle rich deceivers of the first rank, posing as poverty-stricken for the other's amusement. "Summer Share" imagines what happens when two married couples live in a Hamptons summer house and the temptation for cheating becomes nearly overwhelming.

* "Romance/Romance" at International City Theatre, Long Beach City College, Clark and Harvey Way, Long Beach. Through Feb. 20. Plays Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m.. $16. (310) 420-4128, (310) 420-4051, (714) 740-2000.

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