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Show offers double dose of romance

You could do worse than take your sweetie to see CenterStage’s latest dinner-theater offering, “Romance, Romance.”

It’s a lighthearted and unabashedly romantic pair of one-acts that share a common theme. You might summarize it as: “Ain’t love grand?”

I saw plenty of couples in the audience holding hands and enjoying a little pre-Valentine’s night out.

The first, and less successful, half of the evening is a bit like a frothy Viennese operetta. In fact, it is set in turn-of-the-century Vienna.

Two wealthy young socialites, one man and one woman, come to the separate conclusion that they are tired of the romantic possibilities within their own crowd. So they masquerade as poor people and embark on separate excursions into the bohemian world.

Naturally, they stumble across each other and fall in love. The rest of this one-act consists of them fretting over what the other will think when they discover the truth. As it turns out, both turn out to be thrilled. They didn’t really want to be in love with someone poor.

The characters are superficial and snooty, so striking the right tone between laughing at them and laughing with them requires a delicate touch. This show’s touch is not always so delicate. Tony Caprile especially overplays his part, speaking in a plummy upper-class accent and trying too hard to sell every line of dialogue. Selling a song is one thing, but he shouldn’t feel obligated to sell every line.

This act was also hampered by a musical mismatch. Jaime Mathis, who is winning as Josephine, has a better-trained and more musical voice than Caprile. The difference was especially jarring in their unison passages, which didn’t always harmonize.

A few people left at intermission, which was a mistake. They missed the much more enjoyable half of the show, the part that takes place in the present-day Hamptons. Two couples are sharing a summer house – and one couple is clearly in love. Unfortunately, they are not a couple that happens to be married to each other.

They are old friends and maybe, they realize, much more than that. The mere thought thrills them as well as frightens them. As one song lyric puts it, “Come on and play a little marriage roulette.”

The creators of this show cleverly show the forces at work by having the other two spouses appear on stage and comment musically on the dangers. Director Jessica McLaughlin handles these scenes gracefully and effectively.

Almost everything about the second act works better than the first. Caprile is convincing and sympathetic; Mathis is a fine singer and a good comic actress. Jadd Davis and Selena Schopfer, as the “other” spouses, both provide good, well-observed moments.

At one point, Davis’ character observes, innocently, “I never have to worry about forgetting Monica’s birthday. Sam always calls and reminds me.”

The songs, well directed by musical director Leslie Ann Grove, made clever dramatic points. We begin to care so much for the characters that we have to ask ourselves: Should they or shouldn’t they?

Maybe a mini-musical that deals with the illicit thrill of adultery is not exactly your idea of a romantic night out. Yet, like the characters themselves, this show only flirts with the subject. Ultimately, composers Barry Harman and Keith Hermann bring the characters back from the brink. Too much, as they say, is at stake.

Yet, as one of the final song says, it doesn’t hurt to keep hold of your romantic dreams.

Put these two mini-musicals together and you can mix and match a set of themes about romance and how it can be thrilling at times, boring at times, but always too powerful to ignore.

This production, while not perfect, conveys those ideas with a certain panache and style.

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