THE BLOG

Renée Fleming Triumphs on Broadway

04/27/2015 04:06 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015

Your intrepid reporter has traveled far and wide to see opera before, but this was his most challenging assignment yet: to venture into deepest, darkest Manhattan, find parking that didn't require a second mortgage and see the new Broadway play featuring dear Renée Fleming, Living on Love. For comps your reporter will subject himself to any indignity (opera company marketing and PR departments take note), so off he went. And he didn't regret a minute of it.

Douglas Sills and Renee Fleming

Courtesy livingonlovebroadway.com

What a charming show! Joe DiPietro has adapted Garson Kanin's 1985 play Peccadillo to create Living on Love, a story of a self-absorbed but lovable diva married to a self-absorbed but lovable conductor, and their attempts to use eager young ghost writers Robert and Iris to complete autobiographies.

Of course this whole play is about Renée Fleming, so at this point I must pause to lavish her with praise. The part of Raquel De Angelis is perfect for Miss Fleming, who delighted in portraying the egotism, the false modesty, the brash assurance of the Diva, as she is called by everyone. The moments when she revealed the true Raquel, insecurities and all, were handled skillfully, although at times one suspected the character was using even those moments to manipulate people. In spite of one or two bumpy transitions from the grandiloquent Diva to the genuine Raquel, one was left entirely satisfied by Miss Fleming's portrayal of the Diva.

Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson

Courtesy livingonlovebroadway.com

The casting director for this play, James Calleri, deserves kudos for assembling a marvelous cast of Broadway, film and television veterans. Douglas Sills was all bluster, ego and self delusion as the Maestro, Vito De Angelis. As the play opens he and Robert, terrified and spineless and played with great aplomb by Jerry O'Connell, are working on the Maestro's autobiography, having made little progress. With Miss Fleming's first sweeping entrance as Raquel De Angelis (nearly all of Miss Flemings's entrances seemed to be of the sweeping sort -- go figure!), she establishes both her own grandeur and the important plot point that the Maestro is compelled to finish the book because they've already spent the publisher's advance. Anna Chlumsky plays Iris, junior assistant editor who becomes the Maestro's next ghost writer. Her Iris is all nervous charm and intellectual gusto, and we see both Iris and Robert grow into more confident people as the story unfolds.

With the stage set just so, the rest of the story is no surprise. But that's not important. As the Diva explains, recalling a very young fan's comment, people go to the opera because it's better than life. So it is with the theater.

The intricately choreographed efficiency of the two butlers (played by with great joy by Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson) was a delight, both in changing scenes and in their condescending interaction with the two young writers. When they sang along with the opera recordings that accompanied the scene changes -- quite well, I might add -- it was amusing and quite charming. Their lounge-act performance of "Makin' Whoopie" as they were setting the stage for the the Diva's and the Maestro's grandest attempts to seduce the two ghost writers was a delight.

Anna Chlumsky and Jerry O'Connell

Courtesy livingonlove.com

Mr. DiPietro's and Mr. Kanin's writing sparkled with clever quips that went by so fast I couldn't make note of any, but also with further interesting detail. There was the obvious metaphor of the snow globes, gifts from the Maestro and the Diva to each other upon return from various tours, featuring important cities in opera. There was the fact that even in their most intimate and genuine moments, the Maestro and the Diva called each other by the labels Husband and Wife, not by their names. In fact, the Maestro didn't seem to call anyone by name, and had a number of colorful labels for the poor young ghost writer Robert. (Giving Robert the surname Samson, seeming to imply his new-found strength was more predestined by God than by conventional plot point, might have been a bit heavy-handed.)

Kudos to director Kathleen Marshall for a thousand delightful details. Kudos also to the spectacular design team: costume design by Michael Krass, scene design by Derek McLane, wig and hair by Tom Watson. The Eisenhower-era costumes and wigs were absolutely stunning.

One of the most touching details is the story of how the Maestro and the Diva met. Seated next to each other at a sidewalk cafe in Vienna, they both delighted in a small boy performing the Irving Berlin song "Always" on his tiny violin. They asked for another song, but the lad claimed to know no more songs, so he played "Always" again and again, and soon young Vito and Raquel were in love. The Maestro has never been able to progress beyond this story with any of his ghost writers, and at the end, it is instrumental in the Maestro and the Diva reaffirming their love. Miss Fleming's sweet performance of this song almost brought a tear to your hardened reporter's eye. That is how the play ended, and that is how this review ends -- with an image of the Diva in the Maestro's arms, singing sweet, romantic songs to him.

Renee Fleming and Douglass Sills

Courtesy livingonlove.com