Living on Love, the comedy that marks the Broadway debut of opera diva Renee Fleming, is a trifling amusement. The time is 1957. She plays Raquel De Angelis, an opera star on the way down who is now forced to book concerts in such second-tiered cities as Fort Lauderdale. Her husband, the volatile, larger than life, maestro Vito De Angelis (Douglas Sills) duels with Leonard Bernstein for music engagements, always ending up as the second choice. As the play opens we meet would be writer Robert Samson (Jerry O’Connell) who has been hired to ghost write the conductor’s autobiography. The relationship sours quickly and Samson quits. Enter Iris Peabody (Anna Chlumsky), an Assistant Assistant Editor at the publishing house Little, Brown and Company. Originally there to collect the $50,000 advance from the maestro for breach of contract she ends up being engaged to help write his book. His wife, jealous of his new arrangement, rehires Samson to assist in composing her life story. Both she and her husband also need the money for their depleted bank account. The two bicker, try to one-up each other, and behave badly. Samson and Peabody have a more cordial relationship, but the competition to complete their respective book’s first causes some combative moments. Running interference, and providing the only consistent comedic moments in the show, are butlers Bruce (Blake Hammond) and Eric (Scott Robertson). In the end—surprise--each couple finds happiness as the final curtain comes down.
Playwright Joe DePietro, who has based the play on Garson Kanin’s Peccadillo, has written a well-constructed comedy which, unfortunately, is only mildly diverting at best. We are not invested in the narcissistic central characters and only somewhat interested in the secondary players. This overall premise is just not that intriguing.
Renee Fleming makes an inauspicious, muted Broadway debut. Her role does not have much substance and her character is less fiery diva then worrisome, wrung out former leading lady. Her voice—and she does vocalize every so often—is still pure and captivating. Douglas Silk is sufficiently boisterous and makes an exuberant prima donna. By Act II, though, we have tired of the one-dimensionality of the maetro. Jerry O’Connell is suppose to be a spineless writer with zero self-confidence, but he just doesn’t pull it off. Anna Chlumsky is beautifully flummoxed as a woman who dreams of editing the great American novel. Her facial expressions and gangly arms help to create a truly funny persona. Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson just about steal the show as the obedient, perfectly in-step personal staff of the household. Their entrances are a gratifying relief each time they enter the stage.
Director Kathleen Marshall keeps the pacing quick as the actors move in and out of the penthouse set, designed by Derek McLane. She elicits bravado when necessary and nuttiness when appropriate. Her palette is broad, subtlety having little place in the production. The problem is her well-orchestrated guidance cannot save the anemic script.
Living on Love, a lackluster, mildy distracting comedy.