BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
Rooms: A Rock Romance is an unusual musical. For one thing, there are only two characters, a pair of young punk rockers in love. And they're from Glasgow, Scotland: Ian, a working-class guy with a drinking problem, and Monica, a "Scottish Jewish princess.''
In the freeFall Theatre production of Rooms, Ian and Monica are played by real-life husband and wife Graham Fenton and Nicole Kaplan.
"I think everyone can do their own bad Scottish accent, but now we actually have to learn a real one . . . how Scots speak,'' says Fenton, who recently played Frankie Valli in the national tour of Jersey Boys.
"The actors have been working a lot on the Scottish dialect,'' director Eric Davis says. "It's one of the challenges of the show. The characters are going through these major events. I love when you can have these natural, very real moments in a musical. There's nothing like it when you can honestly believe that these things are happening through song. The show gives them an opportunity for some tour de force performances.''
Davis is artistic director of freeFall, which is opening its season with Rooms at Studio@620. Two years ago, the company made a splash with its production of The Wild Party, a jazz musical, at the St. Petersburg gallery. In August, Davis and his partner in life and theater, Kevin Lane, announced that they had acquired a former Christian Science church on St. Petersburg's west side for $1.5 million to be the company's home.
They have been rehearsing Rooms at their new property, which is being renovated. A production of The Frogs, a Stephen Sondheim musical, will open there in January. In the meantime, the company will present not just Rooms but also Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at Studio@620.
Rooms debuted to good notices last year in New York, but there have been relatively few productions around the country; this will be the Southeast premiere. The authors of the musical, Paul Scott Goodman (music, lyrics and book) and his wife, Miriam Gordon (book), who live in New York, plan to attend one of the performances in St. Petersburg.
Goodman, who is Scottish, also wrote the 1999 musical Bright Lights, Big City, based on the Jay McInerney novel. The premiere in New York starred St. Petersburg native Patrick Wilson as a cocaine-snorting, club-hopping magazine fact-checker and would-be novelist whose psychic meltdown was at the center of the show. Wilson, who has gone on to have a big Broadway and film career, wrote liner notes for the CD of Rooms.
Matt Hinkley, who conducted the band for Rooms in its New York premiere, will be doing the same for freeFall. The band includes two guitars, keyboards, drums and bass.
Davis, who directed the production of Hair that was a hit for American Stage in the Park last spring, is doing Rooms in what he calls an "avenue'' staging. There will be sets at either end of the gallery connected by a long, narrow stage. The configuration will seat about 100 on either side of the stage.
"Avenue staging is particularly good for a show like this where there's a kind of duality to the story,'' Davis says. "You have two actors playing characters who are polar opposites. It sets up a great way for us to see these diametric forces and how they come together in the story.''
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at tampabay.com/blogs/critics.