Make us your home page

Review: Asolo's romantic comedy 'Living on Love' hits just the right notes

SARASOTA — Let's start with the sensual pleasures of Living on Love, which turns a lavish New York penthouse into a battleground between an aging opera star and her equally egotistical husband, a famous conductor.

The curtain at Asolo Repertory Theatre opens to a winding staircase lined with paintings, a chandelier and candelabras, piano and fireplace, and blood-red walls bathed in a rosy light. The set drew immediate applause from the audience on opening night.

This regional premiere opens with "Maestro" Vito De Angelis (Karl Hamilton) meeting with a ghostwriter, young Robert Samson (Josh James). Maestro sleeps till mid-afternoon, wears silk pajamas all day and sips wine like water.

It is only fitting we have to wait for the diva to arrive. Rebecca Caine plays Raquel De Angelis, a leading lady whose star is starting to fade. She makes the most of every entrance, wearing a different designer outfit each time and carrying a little white dog.

In an act of jealousy that defines their marriage, Raquel hires her own biographer, Iris Peabody (Ally Farzetta). But Robert has really been more fascinated with Raquel all along.

"She's a remarkable woman," he confides to Iris. "She can talk about herself all day."

The ghostwriters switch subjects, heightening the tension between Raquel and Vito. In the meantime, the diva uses any excuse to sing from her favorite operas. Caine, an internationally renowned Canadian soprano, sings snippets of La Boheme and Tosca, among others, and that's worth the price of admission even if the rest of the play was a joke (which it is not).

The characters pair off and contrast neatly (almost too neatly). The maestro winces at the name of Leonard Bernstein, the diva at any mention of Maria Callas. To her earnest biographer (now Robert), she confesses that her audiences have dwindled, the venues from London and Milan to Buffalo and Fort Myers.

At the same time, a romance flourishes between the ghostwriters, as one surely knew it would. Yet look deeper: The young and unfulfilled writers are happier than luminaries in the art world who have been justly rewarded, even overcompensated, for their greatness.

Written by two-time Tony winner Joe DiPietro, the show opened on Broadway in 2015 but closed after mixed reviews and failing to secure any Tony nominations competing against star-driven shows, including Helen Mirren (The Audience) and Larry David (Fish in the Dark). Critics gave respectable marks to Renee Fleming in her Broadway debut, but some complained that the real-life diva of the moment was too good-natured as Raquel to be effective. Others called the play shallow or trifling.

Caine suffered no such difficulty in the Asolo production, hitting just the right notes as a diva hilariously crippled by self-adulation and past glories. Caine can do so much with an eyebrow, with pursed lips or the turn of her head. Hamilton is a lovable Lothario, fighting gamely in a battle of egos he knows he will lose.

Matthew McGee and Roland Rusinek add a delightful touch as servants in matching pink dinner jackets. McGee is at his usual comic best, and Rusinek shows off the pipes that helped him land roles in the New York City opera and dozens more in regional theater.

Eventually, Caine rewards the audience for waiting with a complete song, a rendition of Irving Berlin's Always. Another romantic resolution you saw coming (and one you didn't) tie up the show with a bow. For those looking for burning depth or characters six layers deep, this show is not for you. But if you enjoy good acting, gentle, self-satirizing wit and the best voice you will hear in musical theater for a while, see Living on Love before the end of its run.

Contact Andrew Meacham at or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

Living on Love

The show runs through Feb. 25 at Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. $24-$81. (941) 351-8000.

Review: Asolo's romantic comedy 'Living on Love' hits just the right notes 01/21/16 [Last modified: Thursday, January 21, 2016 4:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Prep meals for a week with tacos, pork tenderloin and rosemary chicken


    Some see a resemblance to Japan's popular bento boxes. Some just call it meal prepping. And some prefer to think of it as bringing lunch to work in Tupperware containers.

    For simple meal prep, you can’t go wrong with this classic: ground beef tacos, black beans and homemade Spanish rice.
  2. 'Swag Surfin' producer: 'It's very weird… they're still playing the song' eight years later

    Music & Concerts


    Kevin Erondu doesn't often go to night clubs. Yet, across America, he drives people to the dance floor. He's 31 years old, but he still has the ear of college students, and while he's no pro athlete, they leap to their feet when he joins them in the gym.

    Originally from Dade City, music producer Kevin Erondu, 31, rose to prominence after creating the beat to Swag Surfin’, a 2009 club hit that still inspires viral videos today.
  3. 5 things to do under $5: Type artists, shuffleboard, toy train show, Wildflower Walk


    1 Letterheads Typefest: The muralists who run Illsol Space, a gallery in Tampa Heights, said their respect for handmade fonts and sign painting techniques moved them to curate this exhibit featuring type-based muralists, hand-style lettering designers, sign painters, letterpress studios and type designers. …

    Colm O’Connor, a Dublin sign writer, is among the 22 artists featured in the Letterheads Typefest exhibit at the Illsol Space gallery.
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 23


    The Art of the Brick: An elaborate display of more than 100 pieces of Lego artwork including the life sized sculpture of a man ripping open his chest, a 20-foot-long T. rex skeleton, a giant skull and replicas of famous works including Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night and Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona …

    Nathan Sawaya with a sculpture from his The Art of the Brick exhibition coming to Tampa June 23- Sept. 4. It will be open for free Wednesdays through Sundays,  from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 802 E Whiting Street, Tampa. No tickets are required.[Courtesy  of the Art of the Brick]
  5. I give you a fish, you give me back my man


    The B-52s are a band with such a distinct visual look that you could tell it was them with just a glimpse of a picture. But was it always beehives and bright clothes for the hipsters from Athens? You can find the different looks of the B-52s in their video for the irresistible Give Me Back My Man.