The music stars in ‘They’re Playing Our Song’ at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

The vocals are top-notch and the performances are superb. The effervescent live music delivers a solid night of entertainment.

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents They’re Playing Our Song, with a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, and music by Marvin Hamlisch. Patrick A’Hearn directs this production, based on the real-life relationship of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. A renowned composer and eccentric, budding lyricist develop a harmonious working relationship, but when romance blossoms, their conflicting personalities threaten to ruin everything they’ve built.

Scenic designer Frank Foster sets two different apartment interiors against a cityscape backdrop; one posh and tidy, the other cramped and mismatched. Technical aspects of the show (directed by Nathan Dunn) all exceed professional standards, including elements from lighting designer Weston Corey and soundboard technician Cheyenne Tenda. However, the real star of the show here is the music, directed by David Landrum and supervised by Carson Eubank. Having a fantastic live band and orchestra is one of Riverside’s best attributes — if you’re a fan of live music, this is the venue for you.

Carson Eubank as Vernon Gersch and Ashlee Waldbauer as Sonia Walsk in ‘They’re Playing Our Song.’ Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Vernon Gersch (Carson Eubank) is an award-winning composer who’s awaiting the arrival of Sonia Walsk (Ashlee Waldbauer) a lesser-known but promising lyricist, to see if they could potentially work together on a project … that is, if she ever shows up. Vernon is poised, punctual, and visibly displeased when Sonia breezes in well past their meeting time, full of effusive apologies and compliments. She seems to be his opposite in every way; Sonia is informal, talks a mile a minute, and is wildly animated. Costume designer Erin Welsh must have had a great time with Sonia’s wardrobe — she’s a starving artist and relies heavily on her theater friends’ handouts … so that’s to say, her costumes are literally costumes from finished productions. Whether a corseted dress with billowy sleeves or bejeweled cowboy boots, you never know what she’s going to walk onstage in next, a delight that makes Vernon memorably note that she has a “Broadway melody” in her closet. While their personalities largely differ, the two have an easy banter and camaraderie, and they begin writing songs together, including “Falling” and “If He Really Knew Me.”

As their relationship, both business and personal, continues to develop, their conflicting traits begin to drive a wedge between them. Sonia can’t seem to free herself from a codependent and toxic ex-boyfriend named Leon, while Vernon refuses to open up about his emotions and buries himself in his work, to the point that Sonia states, “The piano is your Leon.” Each character has a Greek chorus that represents different parts of their personalities: Kevin Cleary, Chris Florio, and Michael Goltry perform as the voices of Vernon while Jessica Barraclough, Barbara Breen, and Megan Hasses stand in as Sonia’s “girls.” Choreographer Stephanie Wood does a good job with the group numbers, the most memorable being the lively number “Workin’ It Out.”

Vernon and Sonia continue to create beautiful music together, whether it be love ballads when things are good (“When You’re in My Arms”) or emotional numbers when they aren’t (“I Still Believe in Love,” in which Waldbauer delivers a particularly moving performance). The complexities of an individual are studied through the use of the choruses, and show how a relationship between two people can become multifaceted and therefore tricky to navigate, as seen when Vernon impatiently states during an argument, “I don’t know which Sonia I’m angry with right now.”

TOP: Carson Eubank, Ashlee Waldbauer, and the ensemble; ABOVE: Carson Eubank as Vernon Gersch and Ashlee Waldbauer as Sonia Walsk, in ‘They’re Playing Our Song.’ Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Overall, all aspects of this show are wonderful. The music and vocals are top-notch, the technical elements polished and professional, and the performances superb. What didn’t hit the mark for me this time at Riverside was merely the material itself: a predictable and lengthy romantic comedy with somewhat dated jokes and dialogue. However, this is purely a personal choice — if romantic comedies are your thing, and especially if you enjoy live music, then They’re Playing Our Song is a good show for you. This production is especially good if you need a “crowd pleaser” for larger groups, or if you want to stay on the safe side in general (want a night out with your conservative mother-in-law? There’s nothing very risqué or awkward to sit through here).

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts They’re Playing Our Song is a simple, safe love story, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Though it may not be, in my opinion, the most memorable or exciting of shows, Riverside’s effervescent live music continues to deliver a solid night of entertainment.

Running Time: Three hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

They’re Playing Our Song plays through May 12, 2024, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. Tickets ($55–$82) are available online or through the box office 540-370-4300, open from 10 am to 6 pm, Mon.-Wed.; 10 am to 7:30 pm, Thu.-Fri; 12 pm to 7:30 pm, Sat.; 12 pm to 3 pm, Sun. Discounts are available for groups (for details click here).

Adult Dinner & Show – $82 (plus applicable taxes)
Seniors (65+) Dinner & Show – $77 (plus applicable taxes)
Children (3-17) Dinner & Show – $70 (plus applicable taxes)
Adult Show Only – $65
Seniors (65+) Show Only – $60
Children (3-17) Show Only – $55
There will be a $5.00 online processing fee added per ticket.

The playbill for They’re Playing Our Song is online here.

COVID Safety: Patrons are not required to be masked in the facility; but if patrons want to wear a mask, they are welcome to.

They’re Playing Our Song
Book by Neil Simon
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager


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