A Trip to the Moon on Gossamer Wings

Cole Porter didn’t have Roman Holiday in mind when he wrote songs like “Night and Day” and “Just One of Those Things.” And director William Wyler never intended his hit 1953 Hollywood flick to be a musical. But the combination of Porter’s tunes and Wyler’s vision (he insisted on shooting the movie on location), carefully pieced together by author Paul Blake, works on stage at the Guthrie; it works really, really well.

The musical follows almost exactly the story of the movie made famous by Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, with a few tweaks—the biggest of them being that it is, in fact, a musical. Which means elaborate choreography, courtesy Alex Sanchez; swinging big-band music, led by Andrew Cooke; and the kind of singing that makes you want to applaud for an encore mid-show, most notably by leads Stephanie Rothenberg (Princess Anne) and Edward Watts (Joe Bradley). But then there’s also the fiery Christina Baldwin (whose sultry, show-stealing portrayal of Francesca had the audience hooting for more) and the timeless Michelle Garber (Countess). In other words, this show is stacked.

This is a love story—Princess Anne runs away, meets newspaperman/songwriter Joe Bradley, goes on a whirlwind day-long tour of Rome with him while he secretly uses her for a story, they fall in love…you can fill in the rest—and is therefore not the type of ground-breaking, earth-shattering show sometimes seen on stage at the Guthrie. There’s the camp and cheese that should be expected of any 1950s-Hollywood-hit-turned-musical, such as extended scenes of star-crossed lovers gazing longingly into each others’ eyes while singing their hearts out, the use of a video-screen backdrop showing images of Rome while Joe and Princess Anne “ride through the city,” and over-exaggerated background characters clogging up the marketplace, but that’s what makes it fun.

In fact, the most entertaining, well-choreographed 10 minutes I’ve recently seen on stage came during the first act when Anne and Joe are in the middle of a street market. It’s an anything-goes type atmosphere featuring some of the Twin Cities’ most loved actors, all of them dancing, singing, and miming their hearts out. It’s controlled chaos at its best, just like trying to navigate an actual Italian marketplace.

What you can expect from Roman Holiday is an entertaining, light-hearted, makes-you-feel-good evening out in one of the most beautiful places in the Twin Cities. Nowhere else this summer can you find so much talent (both on stage and and backstage—Mathew J. LeFebvre’s costumes are simply gorgeous, completely spot-on in period accuracy, and entertaining on their own [see Francesca’s gown in “Just One of Those Things”])—and energy in one place. Yes, you could go see The Avengers or Men in Black: III, but what you should do is spend the extra money on this: what could very well turn into “just one of those nights; one of those fabulous flights; a trip to the moon on gossamer wings; just one of those things.”

Roman Holiday
Through August 19
Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Mpls., 612-377-2224