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Globe’s ‘Room’ Offers Full Frontal View

By Marianne Regan

SPOILER ALERT: The Old Globe’s current world-premier production “A Room With A View” shows its audience much more than just a pretty new musical. I wasn’t expecting the full monty in this Edwardian rom-com, but there you have it in a skinny-dipping scene in the second act.

Taking place in 1908, the plot involves the young ingénue, Lucy Honeychurch (Ephie Aardema), traveling to Florence, Italy a few weeks before joining her financially well-off  fiancé, Cecil Vyse, who awaits her in Rome. Lucy is chaperoned by her cousin, the strait-laced Charlotte Bartlett (the always excellent Karen Ziemba). While ensconced in an English-like, Italian pensione, she runs into George Emerson (Kyle Harris), a disagreeable young man on vacation with his elderly father (Kurt Kischke). Various other English patrons inhabit the hotel and create adventures and misadventures for the young Lucy. As expected, the young lovers are drawn to each other despite Lucy’s engagement and George’s detachment.

Ephie Aardema as Lucy Honeychurch in ‘A Room with a View’ at the Old Globe. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

The second act moves everyone to Surrey, England where we finally meet the fiancé (Will Reynolds), who we discover is perfectly unsuitable for  Lucy. Lucy’s desire to marry into wealth clashes with her emotions for George. They both sing big, loud anthems about each other, “I Know You” (George) and “Ludwig and I” (Lucy). Even Charlotte gets to share her own thoughts in “Frozen Charlotte.” As expected, there is a happy ending for everyone involved.

The Italian servants and the English servants, portrayed by Jacquelynne Fontaine and Glenn Seven Allen, provided comic relief as well as many operatic moments. I could have listened to both of them sing for hours.  Several other actors also doubled up on parts: quirky Mrs. Lavish was also ditzy Mrs. Honeychurch (Gina Ferrell); elderly Miss Alan was also tween-ager Freddie Honeychurch (Etai BenShlomo); even “Cecil” shared double duties.

Ephie Aardema as Lucy Honeychurch, Edward Staudenmayer as Reverend Mr. Beeber and Karen Ziemba as Charlotte Bartlett (from left). Photo by Henry DiRocco.

The Rev. Mr. Beeber, as played by Edward Staudenmayer, left me wondering if he was a stand-in for the author, E. M. Forster, who wrote the novel upon which the play is based. The program notes that Forster “struggled to come to terms with his own sexuality” and we see the same struggle in the Reverend. I’m not sure if the bathing scene was supposed to reveal his decision to stop living a lie, but he goes through some kind of catharsis.

The show is excellent in every respect. The cast deserves a standing ovation for the sheer effort of singing the show for just about 2 ½ hours. The original score is along the lines of “A Light in the Piazza” — operatic and sweeping, majestic and showy, with big and loud conclusions. Each of the leads sang with mouth wide open; every fiber of their being belting out the numbers.  However, none of the songs stood out on their own. I had hoped to come away humming at least the title song, “A Room With A View,” but all of the melodies seemed similar, and melted together.

Kyle Harris as George Emerson, Karen Ziemba as Charlotte Bartlett and Ephie Aardema as Lucy Honeychurch. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

Special mention to the set designer (Heidi Ettinger), who adorned the proscenium stage with sepia-toned postcards of Italian vistas, much like the ones you would have collected and sent at the turn of the century. Scene changes involved panels of smaller postcards, all coming together to form a picture, giving you the impression of Italian frescoes.  Hundreds of separate panels painted with leaves and sky, swarmed down from the rafters, to form a heavily-forested wood in Surrey, England, the backdrop to the above-mentioned bathing scene.

“A Room With A View” runs through April 8 at the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. Book by Marc Acito, music and lyrics by Jeffrey Stock; additional lyrics by Marc Acito. Based on the novel by E.M. Forster. Directed by Scott Schwartz.

Marianne Regan is a member of Actor’s Equity and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). She began a career in theater in 1976 at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pa., and moved to San Diego in 1985 and performed at the North Coast Repertory Theater and for Edyth Pirazzini’s Mission Playhouse.

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