Leona Samish, an American secretary (played by Alison Peltz), bursts into song (“Someone Woke Up”) as she finds herself on vacation in Venice, so excited she falls into the canal—“but only up to here!”—continuing her dance around the Pensione Fioria veranda, holding her dripping shoes high.
Do I Hear a Waltz?, the Rodgers and Sondheim musical from 1965, with book by Arthur Laurents from his play The Time of the Cuckoo (Summertime, the Katherine Hepburn movie, was also based on it), is playing at the Masquers Playhouse, directed by Dennis Lickteig in his maiden run for the Pt. Richmond company. Lickteig asks the question in the program: why is this musical so little done, so little known? A reasonable answer he provides is that the later ’60s brought different concerns to entertainment in general. And Do I Hear a Waltz? is very much of its time, in a pleasing way.
A gaggle of tourists are roosting at the pensione: the Middle American enthusiasts, the McIlhennys (Anna Albanese and Scott Alexander Ayres); a Guggenheim fellow “trying to be a painter” (William Giammona as Eddie Yeager), who wants to go home, while his wife (Beverley Viljeon as Jennifer) doesn’t; and by turns pixie-ish, spunky and suspicious Leona (the adjectives also describe Peltz’s performance), who hopes to have an experience, maybe an affair—but most of all, to be loved. Senora Fioria (Ellen Brooks, veteran of both the old Mime Troupe’s Commedia and Theatre of Yugen’s Japanese comedy and tragedy) chides her for her pickiness, like a starving child, offered ravioli and demanding a beefsteak: “Miss Samish, eat the ravioli!”
Fioria becomes the counter-moralist (and the most chic-ly dressed, in Maria Graham’s costumes), later proclaiming “I can forgive bad behavior from agony, not from morality!” When Eddie and Jennifer argue (Eddie later tells Jennifer he wants to go home to avoid temptation by the real women in Italy!), Jennifer goes off to a movie—and Eddie climbs into a gondola with Fioria, raising the bubbly Leona’s eyebrows.
Leona finds some masculine solace in the form of shopkeeper Renato (Paul Macari). Their dalliance overcomes obstacles and Leona’s compulsive suspicion (Renato later tells her the only thing she received without suspicion was a thing, an expensive necklace), at least until Leona, lit by martinis, lets loose on all and sundry, breaking up the idyll, Renato finally pronouncing her “too complicated,” though with sympathy, more than Leona can muster for herself.
There’s whimsicality and wit, and that self-awareness of American callowness those times bore. There’s charm and some clever (Giammona, a Lamplighter, singing a tongue-twister, “Bargaining,” or joining in with a flirtacious Fioria and a hilariously incomprehensible maid, played by Diane Ratto, in an English lesson, “No Understand”) and some tuneful (“Moon in my Window,” passed between the women, ending in a trio, or Macari singing “I am not a dream come true—but stay!”) Rodgers numbers with Sondheim lyrics, the title song an achieved hit in its time.
It all takes place on John Hull’s set, overlooking the Gran Canal, lit by Renee Echavez, with Joanne Gabel leading a quintet in the pit and choreography by Jayne Zaban. Sylas Cooper alternates with Christopher Urquhart as boy-on-the-street Mauro and Nick Hauser is Renato’s gentlemanly son, Vito.
It’s sprightly and entertaining, and as Lickteig notes, it “cleverly flips the conventions of the musical comedy romance.” Saying, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore” usually refers to prewar classics or the most popular stuff of the late ‘40s-early ‘50s. It can be said of the knowing fare of the early-mid ‘60s, too. Do I Hear a Waltz? is a refreshing look back at Americans abroad—“wash and wear Americans” as Fioria sings—looking at themselves in the mirror.
DO I HEAR A WALTZ?
Presented by Masquers Playhouse at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 20. $20. 105 Park Place, Point Richmond. 232-4031. www.masquers.org.