Living On Love is Joe DiPietro’s adaptation of Garson Kanin’s Pecadillo. It’s not a good play. It’s not a bad play. It’s a medium play, and not too much more than that.
Maestro Vito De Angelis (Douglas Sills) is writing his memoir – sort of – and using the services of Robert Samson (Jerry O’Connell) who only took the job because he is desperate for money. As the play opens the two have been working for several weeks and are up to a whopping two pages. The Maestro sees no need to be tied down to actual meetings and is content with fabricating his life on a Dictaphone.
We are in 1957, you see.
The Bible took less time to write. Samson is the latest in a long line of ghost writers, each of whom has thrown in the proverbial towel. Actually, Samson is longing for the sigh, or is it the sound, of Raquel De Angelis (Renée Fleming) aka La Diva. He has been an admirer of hers all his life.
As it so happens, this is Samson’s lucky day because the Diva is about to swoop back into the apartment. She arrives, carrying her Pomeranian Puccini (Trixie – this dog works more than some actors...), to lick her wounds after a less than satisfactory European tour. As soon as she enters the same area code as her husband there are fireworks, because that is what these two people love to do. The fireworks are on the mild side because the Maestro seems to be arguing mostly with himself. As La Diva, Fleming seems above all the fuss. She gives it her all, but the bluster never reaches a fevered pitch.
Anyway, once the Diva is on terra firma, Samson can tell the truth – it is she who should write a memoir, and the Maestro is nothing more than a spoiled brat who is impossible to work with. Exit Mr. Samson and everyone else.
Now on to the best part of the play – the scene changes. Blake Hammond (Bruce), Scott Robertson (Eric) are not only actors, they are musicians and singers of some grace and talent. Each of the scene changes is sung, and once the audience is kicked out of their stupor they eat this gimmick up like a bowl of fresh pasta.
Soon the final link in the chain arrives in the person of Iris Peabody (Anna Chlumsky) and assistant junior editor at Little, Brown & Co. who has been sent to retrieve the $50,000 advance that the Maestro has already spent. No book, no moola. Instead, the Maestro convinces her to be his next ghost writer. She accepts, and we now have duelling memoirs, because La Diva has hired Mr. Samson to ghost write her memoir.
The stage is set – duelling pairs of Artists and Ghost Writers. Gosh I wonder what will happen? Do you think the boy will get the girl and the Maestro and the Diva rediscover their love for one another? Gee I HOPE so.
The second act rolls out with the requisite fanfare. There is a little slapstick, some schtick, and everyone does their part. Ms. Chlumsky, however, often seems to be in a different play entirely as she marches around like a marionette with arms akimbo and overdone facial expressions. It has a jarring effect, especially when stacked up against Ms. Fleming’s elegance and ease onstage. The boy does get the girl and the two older folk end up together in a very attractive clinch. And oh, yeah there is a totally time warp reveal of Bruce and Eric’s SECRET. Which never would have happened in 1957.
We are only the worse for wear because we have spent two hours listening to prose that is mild mannered at best. DiPietro cannot decide if he is the Marx Brothers, Abbot and Costello or Dashiell Hammett, so his writing ends up with no flavor of his own. That Fleming occasionally treats us to a few lustrous notes is a gift from the gods and a reminder that I should get to the damn opera and bask in her glow one of these days. Right after I get a copy of Pecadillo and see what Garson Kanin had to say on the subject. I bet it’s a better read.
"It’s only when she sings — in fragments from standards like 'La Bohème' and 'Tosca,' as well as in a warming rendition of Irving Berlin’s 'Always' — that Raquel becomes the passionate, larger-than-life figure she is said to be. The glimpse of real grandeur in that voice makes this trifle of a play seem even smaller."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Mixed-up romantic couples and larger-than-life eccentrics are meant to ignite bright comic fireworks. But too many lame jokes and broad-as-a-barn performances extinguish any chance of that."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"The new Broadway comedy 'Living on Love' isn’t just filled with clichés — it revels in them. This is a show that has its cake, eats it, and then rubs whipped cream all over its face."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"'Living on Love' is meant to be hammy, but it’s not even that. It’s a bland, synthetic dud: a ham-flavored turkey."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"The four time Grammy Award winner is a delight in the show that opened Monday at the Longacre Theatre, able to lovingly goof on her refined world with an insider's grin."
Mark Kennedy for The Associated Press
"When Raquel is not onstage trilling with vainglorious self-adulation and encroaching terror of her professional decline, the fizz quickly evaporates."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"Kathleen Marshall helms this lightweight material with a properly playful touch."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...