Theatre Review: “Five Course Love” at Theatre on the Square

From left to right: Scott Martin, Luke McConnell, and Erin CohenourLast Friday night, May 23, 2008, I drove downtown to Theatre on the Square (TOTS) to see “Five Course Love: A Lip-Smacking Musical Comedy,” by Gregg Coffin.  I had tried once before to see this collection of love-related adventures that take place in five different restaurants with five sets of characters, but this time I had an email from John Fullam, the box office manager, confirming a free consolation ticket for me.  Yay!

First, the credits:  This piece was directed and choreographed by Ron Spencer, with technical direction by James Trofatter, vocal direction by Jeannie Logan, and musical direction by Sean Baker.  John Fullam was the assistant director.  Ron Spencer and James Trofatter designed the set.  James Trofatter, Kevin Brown, and Jill Murrell constructed it.  Kevin Brown designed the lights.   Stephen Hollenbeck designed the costumes, with wigs by Cheryl Harmon of Costumes by Margie.  Jon Lewis is the stage manager.  Diane McGuire and Peter Finney are in charge of properties.  John Fullam is the light operator.  Jeff Roby is the sound operator.

This is one of those shows where the reviews are so mixed that you really have to go and decide for yourself.  Of course, to some extent, you should always ignore “The Reviews” and go see a show to form your own opinion, but in this case it is especially true.

For example, after I blogged about finding that last Sunday’s performance had been cancelled due to illness, a friend emailed me to say that I had “dodged a bullet” and that the show would have been a waste of my time and money.  Yikes!

Lisa Gauthier, in Nuvo, on the other hand, praised the show.  I don’t see any star rating, though, which is unusual for Nuvo.  I wonder if there is any significance in that.  Hmm.

At least two of the online reviews of the New York productions of the show say that it is five appetizers rather than a five-course meal – i.e., a mere musical revue about love rather than a full-fledged story – but tasty nonetheless.  Other New York reviewers say the show is potentially offensive because of its ethnic stereotypes and sexist content, but enjoyable nonetheless.

My opinion is that although “Five Course Love” is not my favorite out of all the deliciously quirky shows that I have seen at TOTS, I am still very glad that I went.  (And not just because I had a free ticket!)

For one thing, who knew that actress Erin Cohenour could sing like that?  We heard her as part of the ensemble in the Lowbrow production of “Assassins” last December, and didn’t she sing a solo last summer in “The Will Rogers Follies” at Footlite?  I can’t remember.  But in any case, here she sings a large variety of lyrics in a large variety of styles of music, all by herself or with just the other one or two actors.  And she sings them beautifully!

Luke McConnell sings beautifully here, too.  I only know him as an improv comedian, part of the IndyProv group that performs in the Legends Lounge at the Talbot Street Night Club on the first and third Friday of every month.   He is hilarious in “Five Course Love,” but he also melted my heart more than once as he sang some of the quieter, more serious ballads.  Who knew he could do that?

The playwright, Gregg Coffin, says on www.fivecourselove.com that he wrote this piece as “an homage to character actors.”  He wanted to write “something that gave my kind of actor a chance to tear up the stage as a lead rather than waiting for the auxiliary number of the show.”  I love this!  I loved getting to see Cohenour and McConnell succeed at being musical leads, too.

Handsome Scott Martin must have been the person who was sick last weekend.  In the performance I saw, he still did not have his voice back.  Sometimes I could have sworn he was just moving his mouth, as if it hurt too much to make a sound.  That might be okay in a huge ensemble, but it is just weird in a duet.  I remember loving his voice in both solos and duets during the Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s production of “Aida” last fall.  Sometimes in this performance, too, I heard that same richness in his voice, but not nearly as often as the script required.  I enjoyed getting to see more of his comedy skills in “Five Course Love” – he makes a simultaneously dreamy and hysterical Clark Kent-like geek, for example – but I felt sorry not to hear his voice at full strength.

By the way, how do lead singers on Broadway do eight shows a week?  I don’t know, but somehow they do.  They make sure to get lots of sleep, they work with vocal coaches, something.

However, although I was disappointed by his voice this time, I have to say that Scott Martin LOOKED great.  Who knew that his virtually naked body was so gorgeously sculpted?  You get to see a lot of it in this show.  It is distractingly attractive, especially if you are sitting at all close to the stage. 

All three of the actors looked hot, actually, which is a good thing because they all have to sing and dance and even tumble while showing a lot of skin.  Cohenour even somersaults across the stage in a mini-skirt and five-inch heels!   I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I kept wanting to rub McConnell’s bare tummy.

All three of the actors interacted comfortably and engagingly with the audience, too.  In Martin’s first solo, sung on his way to a blind date, he sang just to me, or so it seemed.  I had my fingers crossed for him to find an end to his loneliness.

Later, Cohenour, singing as a dominatrix, winked and pointed at a man sitting near me.  He laughed and said under his breath, “Oh, yes, Erin does know I’m in the audience.”

And McConnell had us all calling out “Trouble in the kitchen!”

As for technical elements, the recorded musical curtain talk at the beginning of the show is a hoot.

I also enjoyed the many, many wigs and costumes.  The clothing materials ranged from good-ole-boy denim to gangster silk to shiny, black, bondage-fantasy vinyl and leather.  The speed-of-light costume changes were delightful and, I assume, accomplished only with the help of a LOT of dressers and excellent organization back stage.

I felt a little disappointed by some of the other design elements, however.  I don’t go to TOTS to see million dollar extravaganzas, but even so, the set was a little too bare for my taste.  I admire whoever did the texturing in the lilac, blue, and pink paint on the back wall, and I thought the four entrances to the set fit the needs of the script in a clever way, but overall the vast, unadorned background and the garage sale table and chairs looked…serviceable but cheap.

I felt the same way about the recorded piano accompaniment.  It was fine, but the show would have felt richer with three or four live musicians showing off their versatility along with the actors.  Or even a live pianist in view of the audience, interacting with us and the cast as a sort of fourth actor.

You might feel differently, however!  And as I say, my satisfactions with this show outweighed my disappointments.

I love that this show is a sort of progressive dinner of love.  Not only do we go to five different restaurants, we also taste several different potential aspects of love relationships, including blind dates, unreasonable expectations, infidelity, sexual wildness, agonizing over having to choose between passion vs. friendship, overlooking the perfect person who is right in plain sight, and (yay!) finally finding happiness.

I also love that the three actors send the audience out with a song that hopes for the best for us in love, too.

I didn’t necessarily find love at the theatre Friday night, but I did feel lucky to be sitting next to actor/tech wizard Jeremy Cales.  He will play Eliza Doolittle’s father in the Myers Dinner Theatre production of “My Fair Lady,” opening June 6 in Hillsboro, Indiana.  He has also been preparing to direct/stage manage the annual Encore Awards Ceremony again this October.  I enjoyed getting to hear about these and several of his other current projects.  I admire him for getting out to see other theatres’ shows, too, in his “spare” time!

If you decide to give “Five Course Love” a try, you might also like to try a new restaurant before the show.  Theatre on the Square is offering a “dinner and show” experience with the help of five real-life local restaurants: Agio (Italian), Rathskeller (German) Acapulco Joe’s Mexican Foods (Mexican), Old Point Tavern (Pub) and Weber Grill (Grill-Out Dinning).  If you try a full-price course at one of these restaurants and bring the receipt with you to the theatre, you will receive 25% off your ticket to “Five Course Love.”

Here are the numbers to those restaurants (taken from the TOTS website):

  • Agio :: 317-488-0359
  • Rathskeller :: 317-636-0396
  • Acapulco Joe’s :: 317-637-5160
  • Old Point :: 317-634-8943
  • Weber Grill :: 317-636-7600

But most important of all, the number to call for a reservation to the show itself is 317-685-TOTS.  “Five Course Love” continues at Theatre on the Square through Saturday, June 14, 2008.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

Leave a Reply