Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Theater Review: ROOMS a rock romance

ROOMS a rock romance (sic) tries very hard to give the audience for a “a rock romance,” what it wants – loud, heavy music combined with a love story straight out of The Idiot’s Guide to Romantic Comedy – and in that sense, at least, it does exactly what it needs to. Yes, Boy meets Girl. Boy also loses Girl. Does Boy win Girl back? I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you can watch the opening scene without figuring out exactly what happens in the closing scene, you probably aren’t paying enough attention to care.

If New World Stages is attempting to maintain a precisely-varied roster (it seems like there’s always one show for the kids; one for their grandparents; one that’s “serious”; one that’s titillating; one that “rocks”; and, of course, one that’s Altar Boyz and one that’s Naked Boys Singing), ROOMS is the perfect replacement for Rock of Ages, which has transferred to Broadway. Like that musical, ROOMS demands little of its audience, but provides a solid hour-or-so of diversion. Unfortunately, I found myself wishing that the book’s authors (Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon) would gather enough courage to take the risk of challenging the audience’s expectations once or twice.

The book’s banality is especially disappointing because the two stars, Leslie Kritzer and Doug Kreeger, are very talented: it is clear that they’ve worked hard to connect with their roles and with the audience. Kreeger, in particular, wrings every bit of emotion possible out of his portrayal of Ian, a depressed, phobic, working-class Glasgow musician with a heavy drinking problem. He combines this emotionality with a strong singing voice, and uses both to powerful effect in numbers like “Fear of Flying” and “Clean.” Kritzer is slightly less successful as Monica P. Miller, a Jewish Scottish Princess whose sheer ambition (her motto: “Whatever It Takes”) leads her to become, consecutively, a Bat Mitzvah entertainer; punk rocker; cabaret singer; and jingle writer. Though Kritzer is a gifted comic, she’s less believable during those moments she’s called upon to show vulnerability. This isn’t entirely her fault – her character largely operates on one unchanging level throughout the show, until a rather forced and perfunctory climax. Kritzer is also a strong singer, but she and Kreeger are both hindered by Scottish accents that too often seem cribbed from tapes of Uncle Scrooge McDuck and Star Trek’s Scotty – their artificiality is frequently distracting and adds little.

There is not much to say about the show’s songs (also written by Goodman). They are rhythmic (and loud) enough to keep things interesting, and they are entertaining. However, many of them lack melody: it’s surprising that a show about aspiring pop stars has so few musical hooks. I enjoyed the music while I was in the theater, but I can’t honestly remember much of it a day later. (It is also clear that Goodman has no real knowledge of punk rock beyond a few surface traits – and someone should inform him and Gordon that punk and New Wave are not the same thing, despite the terms being used interchangeably throughout the show.)

Scott Schwartz, the show’s director, deserves credit for staging the two actors (and one door) cleverly and organically. Under his direction, the first half of the show has several memorable comedic moments, and he directs the more serious portion of the show with sensitivity and honesty.

Ultimately, ROOMS a rock romance succeeds in providing a night’s entertainment, and the actors’ performances, at least, are worth seeing. It’s just a shame that their charisma isn’t being showcased in something a bit more thought-provoking.

ROOMS a rock romance is in an open-ended run at New World Stages, 340
West 50th Street, Clinton; (212) 239-6200,

© 2009, Christopher Stansfield. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed to the public under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License, and may only be distributed according to the terms of said license. To view a copy of this license, please click here.

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