by David Hilder · April 25, 2015
Douglas Sills, Renee Fleming | Joan Marcus
From the moment we meet Vito De Angelis, tempestuous Italian maestro, we know he means business. Every withering look, every tossed-off insult, each moment demonstrates Vito’s intensity, and an assumption of command that it’s useless to resist. And the more serious Vito gets, the more delightful becomes Living on Love, Joe DiPietro’s revision of Garson Kanin’s play Peccadillo. Douglas Sills, playing this larger than life character, offers a master class in comedy, knowing precisely when to scale things up so the next, quieter moment is simply hilarious. Sills defies the adage that you can’t have your cake and eat it by not only having and eating the cake, but chewing a large portion of the scenery, too – and it looks pretty damn delicious.
Living on Love centers on the marriage of slightly-past-middle-aged Vito and Raquel, his diva soprano wife. Both are finding their glory days behind them, as Raquel returns home from a prematurely cancelled tour and Vito is plagued by tales of the increasing success of that no-talent upstart, Leonard Bernstein. Both De Angelises are writing memoirs with the help of ghost writers (or, as Vito’s Italian-flavored English would have it, “spooky helpers”) – Iris Peabody, writing Vito’s, and Robert Samson, writing Raquel’s, after having been fired by Vito. Iris and Robert find themselves drawn to their respective clients, and when the feuding maestro and diva determine they are on the brink of divorce, they angle to land their much younger scribes as new romantic partners. A pair of servants completes the ensemble, providing brisk efficiency in the face of their employers’ wild passions. A pleasant comedy with several very funny moments, Living on Love offers a nice night out at the theater, if not the kind of consistent laughter its premise might suggest.
The design elements for Living on Love are exemplary, with Derek McLane’s luxe set and Michael Krass’s terrific costumes looking particularly splendid. Kathleen Marshall directs with a fine sense of space and an evident appreciation for the energy of this kind of 1950s boulevard comedy. The cast, other than Sills, is a mixed bag. Opera diva Renée Fleming, as Raquel, is clearly playing catch-up in her first appearance in a play, seeming somewhat underwater in the evening’s more rapid-fire sections, but she hits more than misses, and it goes without saying that every time she sings, she astounds. As Iris and Robert, Anna Chlumsky and Jerry O’Connell, both excellent actors, seem adrift; she works far too hard, and he is simply miscast as a nebbish who finds his spine. Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson, as Bruce and Eric, the servants, land every laugh and are also responsible for the play’s finest scene, toward its closing moments. Their presence lifts Living on Love to heights it otherwise doesn’t achieve.
There’s a lot of energy being exuded on the stage of the Longacre Theatre, in service of a story of two married classical music titans – and yet the greatest delights to be found in Living on Love are in the simplest moments. The grace notes here do finer work than the score as a whole.