Monday, September 24, 2012

Once Upon a Roman Holiday

In the era of the 1%, who would give up their wealth and fame to join the uncleansed masses?
Roman Holiday is essentially the classic fairy tale in reverse. Princess Anne is a young European royal, the darling of her people and an unwilling participant in the trappings of monarchy. Her only dream is to live like a “normal” person, and at the end of a European introductory tour, she sneaks out of the embassy to join the plebeians below.
Her plan backfires as she ends up staying at the home of Joe Bradley, a composer who daylights as a journalist to earn cash. Bradley initially doesn’t recognize Anne, but once he does he’s determined to take advantage of her company to write an exclusive expose and earn his passage back to New York City where he can compose full time.
The problem with Bradley’s plan is that he and Anne come to like each other much more than they anticipated throughout their day spent on the streets of Rome. The script is interspersed with songs, dance, cameos from colorful Roman citizens and more, until Anne must return to her life as a princess.
The Guthrie smartly kept Roman Holiday to an exact copy of the 1953 cinema classic, down to crinoline-clad Audrey Hepburn doppelganger Stephanie Rothenberg, vintage Vespas and a life-size Trevi fountain. The effect is delightful even for those who haven’t seen the original Cole Porter-composed film (which you should if you haven’t) that starred Gregory Peck and nabbed Hepburn her first Oscar, launching her into celluloid stardom.
Rothenberg plays an excellent Anne, capturing much of Hepburn’s winsome portrayal. Her Disney princess innocence can at times be a tad frustrating, but most of her performance is spot-on, particularly in “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.”
Rothenberg is well partnered with Edward Watts, whose Joe Bradley is a bit more Howard Keel than Gregory Peck, but whose confident smile and peppy presence also strongly evoke the original film. Swing classic “Night and Day” is the best showcase for Watts’ voice.
Christina Baldwin is the show’s most winning star as the feisty Francesca, a bodacious Italian babe whose Porsche-caliber curves keep every man on his knees. Baldwin’s strut is magnificent, and her spot on accent keeps the laughs coming.
Roman Holiday’s second star has to be the decadently awesome ensemble cast, who profile some serious swing dance moves every scene or so (the sequence in “Look What I Found” is incredible). Many of them are Chanhassen Dinner Theater transplants, and their musical theater training there serves them well on the McGuire proscenium stage. The enormous ensemble utilizes the extravagant set and costumes to the utmost advantage, providing a live-in-Technicolor feast for the eyes and a beautiful approximation of Rome itself. They bring the cinema to the stage, and any attendees will love their wonderful caricatures.
Roman Holiday might be the musical to see of 2012, and it’s definitely one of the most family friendly shows to grace the Guthrie’s stages in a while. Avante-garde devotees may find its candy coating too much to swallow, but it’s a wonderful show for fans of classic Hollywood cinema, fairy tales or simply an escape from the everyday.