Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 8, 2017

A Legendary Romance

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through August 20, 2017
by Michael J. Moran

Photo by Daniel Rader
This iconic summer festival is far more identified with straight plays than with musical theatre, but its winning world-premiere production of “A Legendary Romance,” with music and lyrics by British pop songwriter Geoff Morrow and a book by film and television writer Timothy Prager, suggests that it should venture into this genre more often.

Flashing between 1950, when film director Joseph Lindy was making hit movies with love-of-his-life starlet Billie Hathaway, and 1994, when he must approve a younger producer’s revision of Lindy’s unfinished masterpiece, this story of the Hollywood blacklist era, when Senator Joseph McCarthy was leading anti-Communist witch hunts, explores how, as the show’s director, Lonny Price, told the Boston Globe, “we all reinvent our history to some degree…in a way to make peace with what’s happened to us.”

James Noone’s imaginative scenic design is dominated by a large screen, where the opening scene plays the dramatic close of Lindy’s “A Legendary Romance” as re-imagined 44 years later by another’s vision and viewed with consternation by an older but not yet wiser Lindy. Price makes smart use of the two-level set to reinforce the cinematic scope of this scene and to keep the audience on edge as live stage action alternates with big screen footage throughout both acts.

Silver-haired Broadway actor Jeff McCarthy, familiar to Berkshire theatergoers from his frequent Barrington Stage appearances, brings the perfect balance of gravitas, comic timing, and powerful singing to Lindy. Lora Lee Gayer gives Billie an intriguing mix of innocence and jadedness, adding a welcome touch of noir to “You Didn’t Call, You Didn’t Write.” Maurice Jones is effectively brash as the revisionist producer, and in a dual role Roe Hartrampf nicely connects the swagger of Vincent Connor with the guile of Seth Maurer.

On first hearing, Morrow’s full-blooded score serves the grand scale of the story and its larger-than-life characters by underlining the fast-paced action but staying out of its way. Tracy Christensen’s resourceful costume design, Robert Wierzel’s sensitive lighting design, and Charlie Rosen’s crack eight-piece band further enhance a strong ensemble that should give this impressive production a wide future life.