Renee Fleming in 'Living on Love': EW stage review
The word peccadillo is defined in Merriam-Webster as ‘a slight offense’. The former part of that definition applies perfectly to Joe DiPietro’s Living on Love, a fluffy, sweet but forgettable confection based on a 1985 Garson Kanin play called, naturally, Peccadillo, which starred Christopher Plummer and a pre-Top Gun Kelly McGillis.
Raquel de Angelis (Renée Fleming) is an aging capital-D diva (who actually likes being called “Diva”) whose gigs have gone from Paris to Poughkeepsie in recent years, while her Italian lothario of a hubby Vito (Douglas Sills) stews over the rising success of nemesis Leonard Bernstein while lounging in hilariously loud pajamas. Vito has employed Robert (Jerry O’Connell), a ghostwriter (whom he dubs a “spooky helper”), to help with a memoir. Frustrated with Vito’s lack of a tale to tell, Robert soon ends up in the employ of Raquel, who decides she wants a memoir of her own and has designs on the studly, younger scribe. When the comely Iris, a junior editor played by Veep’s Anna Chlumsky, tracks down Robert to see where the publisher’s advance has been going, she is then recruited by the virile Vito to become his new writing partner, but not before he makes advances of his own. All the while, an adorable pair of butlers (played by Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson) bellow some mini-arias while rearranging Derek McLane’s handsome parlor set.
The chief selling point of Living is that the play actually features an honest-to-God opera star in the leading role. Fleming—the internationally-renowned soprano who’s tackled just about every heaving-chested female role from the Met to the Salle Pleyel—lacks some spontaneity and it occasionally shows in her hit-your-marks portrayal, but damned if she isn’t charming, and her relaxed rapport with costar Sills, whose accent as thick as bracciole, is always apparent. The actor, sporting a mad-scientist shock of white hair for much of the show’s running time, seems fully liberated from dutiful, jut-jawed leading-man roles, and dashes away with the evening; one can only hope for more parts like this one to show up in his future. As the younger foils, Chlumsky and O’Connell do their best with the show’s weaker one-liners, while Hammond and Robertson score as the inseparable servants.
But as to why this production—first seen at last year’s Williamstown Theatre Festival—truly required a Broadway berth is beyond me; if anything, Kathleen Marshall’s production would play better in a more modest house, where the thuds wouldn’t land quite so hard; fun as this show can be, DiPietro (Nice Work If You Can Get It) is not exactly Noel Coward. (Example: the family dog is named ‘Puccini’–get it?) It’s the committed cast, however, that keeps Living on Love from Running on Fumes. B–