Lyricist Carole Bayer Sager and composer Marvin Hamlisch really did have a relationship back in the day, a romance that became fodder for the 1979 Broadway musical "They're Playing Our Song."
With a cutesy, joke-filled book by Neil Simon, the show lasted for more than 1,000 performances on Broadway. Now, Boca Raton's Wick Theatre is kicking off its fourth season with an engaging production whose greatest asset is its female star: Andrea McArdle, who originated the title role in "Annie" on Broadway.
McArdle plays Sonia Walsk, a moderately successful lyricist who is teamed with Vernon Gersch (James Clow), an Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer with a string of hits. The two could scarcely be more different. He's neurotic, funny and wealthy, living in a chic Manhattan apartment with a spectacular Central Park view that he never savors because he's afraid of heights (that's one of Simon's comic "gems"). She's a kook who wears clothes her actress friends pass along from their shows, and she has a penchant for showing up late because of ongoing dramas with her not-quite-ex Leon.
And yet, this being the less-than-realistic world of musical theater, Vernon and Sonia fall for each other, keep trying to make it work despite the mismatch, break up, get back together. The end.
What makes "They're Playing Our Song" worth a visit are its pop-hit score ("Fallin'," "Just for Tonight," "I Still Believe in Love" and the title song are the standouts), its creative staging (Sonia and Vernon each have three Greek chorus alter egos, so the music isn't all solos and duets), and the appealing performances by McArdle and Clow.
McArdle has a slightly husky speaking voice and, since childhood, a knockout way of delivering show tunes. With longer and shorter red wigs in a late '70s style, she's a slender grownup beauty whose Sonia has moxie in common with Annie. Listening to her sing as musical director Michael Ursua and the peppy onstage band play is a real pleasure.
Clow winds up with the bulk of Simon's laugh-generating lines, many of them having to do with Sonia's inability to extricate herself from the needy Leon. It's a testament to the actor's low-key finesse (and Norb Joerder's solid direction) that his words sound like conversation instead of punch lines begging for a rim shot. His voice, whether singing solo or blending with McArdle, is a rich instrument that Wick audiences first heard when he played Cornelius in "Hello, Dolly!" last season.
Sonia's "girls," or muses, are played by Mallory Newbrough, Amanda Frennier and Victoria Lauzun. Vernon's guys are Clay Cartland, Terry Farley and James Skiba. Joerder utilizes them well in his musical staging, and costume designer Linda C. Shorrock dresses them in look-alike outfits that are similar to whatever Sonia or Vernon is wearing when they appear. Set designer Kimberly Wick and projections designer Josieu Jean team to create Vernon's tidy apartment and Sonia's messy one, as well as a disco, a beach house, Vernon's bedroom, a recording studio and a hospital room.
The romance between Bayer Sager and Hamlisch wasn't as enduring as their fictionalized version of it, and even that is no great musical-theater love story. But the show is certainly enjoyable, particularly whenever McArdle is singing their songs.
"They're Playing Our Song" runs through Nov. 6 at The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, in Boca Raton. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and 2 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday. Tickets cost $75 and $80. To order, call 561-995-2333 or go to TheWick.org.