Review: ‘Do I Hear a Waltz?’ – Encores Great American Musicals at City Center

By Jonathan Spira on 16 May 2016
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The City Center Encores time machine is at it again. It’s 1965, the early days of the jet age and Americans are flocking to Europe. Richard Rodgers, 62 at the time, had already amassed, along with his long-time collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II, a total of 35 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards while Stephen Sondheim, at the tender age of 34, had yet to make his mark in musical theater.

In their one and only collaboration, Rodgers and Sondheim came together to adapt Arthur Laurents’ play, “The Time of the Cuckoo.” The result was “Do I Hear a Waltz?”, which opened Wednesday at City Center as part of its Encores series of performances. It was an uneasy pairing, a phrase that could just as easily be applied to the characters in the show.

The plot centers on a schoolteacher, Leona Samish, played wonderfully by Melissa Errico, as she does her best to not imitate an ugly American during a solo holiday in Venice. At her pensione, run by Signora Fioria (Karen Ziemba), she meets her fellow American guests including Eddie Yeager (Claybourne Elder) and his wife Jennifer (Sarah Hunt), as well as the rather affable McIllhennys (Richard Poe, Nancy Opel), who seem to be reenacting “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” with their tight itineraries. Because it’s Italy, it seems that everyone is having an affair including the handsome shopkeeper Renato Di Rossi (lyric opera tenor Richard Troxell), the sensual older woman Signora Fioria, the hot American tourist Eddie Yeager, and Leona herself.


The music is exuberant under the musical direction of Rob Berman and the resplendent Encores Orchestra, but this is not “La Dolce Vita” by any means. Indeed, Leona is in search of true love and explains she thought she would hear a waltz play were she to find it.

“You should have gone to Vienna,” deadpans Signora Fiorina.

The real show stealer here is Giovanna, the pensione’s perennially English-challenged waitress/receptionist, who is trying – and failing – to learn Americano from Eddie. Her slow march to a ringing telephone had the audience on the floor.

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