Ephie Aardema plays Lucy Honeychurch, Edward Staudenmayer is Reverend Mr. Beeber, and Karen Ziemba is Charlotte Bartlett in the Old Globe’s world priemere musical A Room with a View.
  • Ephie Aardema plays Lucy Honeychurch, Edward Staudenmayer is Reverend Mr. Beeber, and Karen Ziemba is Charlotte Bartlett in the Old Globe’s world priemere musical A Room with a View.
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The views in the Old Globe’s world premiere musical, A Room with a View, are one of the show’s best features. Heidi Ettinger’s sets re-create Florence, Italy, and Surrey, England, with enlarged postcards from 1908. Rows and pillars pasted with cards kaleidoscope into new playing spaces. For a wood in Act Two, Ettinger flies in maybe 30 green rectangles with different configurations of leaves. The fluid stage — like watching the Louvre on the move — recalls the Cubism of Picasso and Braque, just coming into vogue when the story begins.

E.M. Forster wrote A Room with a View in 1908 and made it a time of transition. The Edwardian era was an extension of the old — stern Victorian morality and strict class consciousness — and the beginning of a breakout, like Cubism and ragtime, into freer forms of expression. An unmarried British woman’s reputation became a last bastion: to combat “the brute force of public opinion,” she must out-pure the driven snow.

Lucy Honeychurch doesn’t represent the “medieval lady,” Forster says, nor is she in revolt. But she sees men living liberated lives and women encased in idealizing restrictions. “Before the show breaks up she would like to drop the august title of the Eternal Woman, and [become] her transitory self.”

Lucy’s engaged to well-heeled Cecil Vyse (Forster’s giveaway names recall comedies of manners). The marriage of convenience will save her family. But once in Italy, she walks a tightrope between duty — “the only life we know” — and a contrary heart that whispers “passion is sanity.” What gives the story much of its poignancy: Lucy does not go gently into her spring awakening.

A Room with a View is a nice musical — both very and merely. It has a definite charm. But along with snipping and tightening, it needs to entertain less and have more at stake. At present, Lucy eases into an inevitable change of heart.

Jeffrey Stock’s appealing score, backed by a 14-piece orchestra, combines Italian opera and the British music hall with other popular styles and cadences. Free-spirited George Emerson (Kyle Harris with disheveled, Lord Byron–like hair) sings from-the-heart grabbers “I Know You” and “Let It Rain”; Karen Ziemba show-stops with “Frozen Charlotte”; and Ephie Aardema has the tour de force. In “Ludwig and I,” she plays Beethoven’s “Tempest Sonata” on the piano and adds an aria of her own. Lucy unleashes her passion and reveals how it’s misdirected.

Several in the cast sing better than they act. One-note characters often expand in song.

David Lander’s extraordinary lighting rinses the stage in burnt-orange Tuscan sunshine and cooler Surrey hues. In the novel, Forster balances the bright and the bundled up. But director Scott Schwartz keeps the musical on the sunny side. The forces of repression — Reverend Beeber, Cecil Vyse, and Lucy’s stern cousin Charlotte — receive comic treatment. In effect, they come to us prejudged. The Reverend’s sudden embrace of life — in a splashy, Full Monty water sequence — would ring truer if he’d embraced it less before. Cecil isn’t a “vice,” just a harmless snob. In much of the first act, Charlotte isn’t “frozen” at all, just a mite standoffish. Cartooning the moralizers gives Lucy far less to fight against.


A Room with a View is set in 1908. Next door, at the Old Globe’s White Theatre, Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie takes place in 1910. In both, women are property. Their reputations, like fluctuating real-estate values, drive the stories. Lucy fights to preserve hers, at the expense of genuine feeling. Anna Christie wishes Mat Burke, the gruff seaman she’s come to love, would overlook her “tainted” past and see her as a “real, decent woman.”

O’Neill’s produced so rarely, it’s easy to forget his gifts: among them, authentic dialogue. His Eastern seaboard characters spew “quare, rough talk,” drenched in brine and grog, which always rings true.

In the Old Globe’s opening-night performance, authenticity varied from the real deal to none at all. Thick ropes for doorways and gunwales, on a spare set, and rustic costumes worn for warmth alone suggested a socked-in, waterfront atmosphere.

Kristine Nielsen’s cameo as Marthy Owen was O’Neill-worthy. Wearing layers of vague browns, red-faced enough for a Fans Hals portrait, Marty was no stranger to a tavern stool. Mat Burke stokes coal on steamers. From his entrance, crawling out of a fog, to his final, puzzled exit, Austin Durant was the larger-than-life Irishman. As he entombed Anna in a brusque, American version of Forster’s Eternal Woman, Durant’s sea-legged swagger made him a perfect choice to play Yank in O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape.

Anna’s controlling father, Chris Christopherson, is a blaring childlike drunk with a thick Swedish accent. Bill Buell began miles over the top. Even after he settled in, the accent wavered, and he got laughs for lines flecked with pain. In the title role, Jessica Love drew a blank. She gave flat readings devoid of character, accent, or subtext. In the end — when Mat and Chris became a male-strom around her — Love picked up some. But even then, she gave the unshakable impression that she didn’t have a clue. ■

A Room with a View, book by Marc Acito; music and lyrics, Jeffrey Stock; based on the E.M. Forster novel

Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park

Directed by Scott Schwartz; cast: Jacquelynne Fontaine, Glenn Seven Allen, Karen Ziemba, Ephie Aardema, Edward Staudenmayer, Will Reynolds, Etai BenShlomo, Gina Ferrall, Kurt Zischke, Kyle Harris; scenic design, Heidi Ettinger; costumes, Judith Dolan; lighting, David Lander; sound, Jon Weston; musical director, Boko Suzuki

Playing through April 15; Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-234-5623

Anna Christie, by Eugene O’Neill

Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Balboa Park

Directed by Daniel Goldstein; cast: John Garcia, Chance Dean, Brent Langdon, Jason Maddy, Bill Buell, Kristine Nielsen, Jessica Love, Austin Durant; scenic design, Wilson Chin; costumes, Denitsa Bliznakova; lighting, Austin R. Smith; sound, Paul Peterson

Playing through April 15; Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-234-5623

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