Kensington Arts Theatre’s production of Paul Scott Goodman’s Scottish rock musical Rooms: A Rock Romance features a thrillingly gorgeous score by Paul Scott Goodman and a poignant, funny, and heart-felt book by Mr. Goodman and his wife Miriam Goodman. It also sports a sensational group of musicians led by Musical Director Leah Kocsis.
Rooms tells the story of two actors – musicians both – that fall madly in love to the sounds of punk. Ian (Eric Jones), and Monica (Madeline Botteri), share a bickering playful romance that begins when Monica asks Ian to write music accompaniment for her lyrics. These characters are vastly different – Ian is a homebody, down to earth and more reserved, while Monica is loud, incredibly ambitious and can’t sit still for more than three minutes. She wants to “Bring the Future Faster” [a song Botteri hits a home run with] and yearns for a successful career. Yet, their attraction for each other is palpable, and their differences create a balance that fits the needs of their relationship.
The musical is set in Scotland, London, and New York, circa 1977, just when punk rock was gaining popularity in Great Britain and the United States. The set, designed by John Decker, displays a few chairs and two staircases on either end of the stage – the walls are painted to look like brick, and there is a door mounted on wheels that the characters move around throughout the show; the orchestra is visible behind the main stage area. Directors Dani Stoller and Lenora Spahn, make Ian and Monica manipulate the stage by using the staircases to rock out during rock numbers, head banging and showing off their middle fingers, with a live band in the middle making it all possible. During these kinds of numbers, the audience can’t help but feel they are at a rock concert. It’s very clever staging and direction.
Both Jones and Botteri shine. Jones sings “Friday Night Dress” beautifully. It’s a song about Monica putting on a pretty, yet simple, black dress, and it indicates the first blossom of romance between the protagonists. As Monica turns to Ian and says, “How do I look?” the lighting dims (wonderful lighting by John D. Alexander) into a hot pink aura that surrounds her, and Ian is staring at her, speechless and enamored, the lighting capturing his exact emotions.
“Scottish Jewish Princess” is one of the highlights of the show and is performed by Ian and Monica at and for a friend’s Bat Mitzvah. Monica begins talking to the audience, as if the audience members were actually invited guests at the Bat Mitzvah. And then Monica and Ian start playing and singing the song which has inappropriate and funny lyrics that are unlikely ever to be sung at a real Bat Mitzvah, or at any ‘other holy’ occasion. Although it’s not exactly a rock anthem, Botteri is outlandish as her head bangs to the tune anyway, protruding passion through every single word of her lyrics. The song ends with a “Mazel Tov” and is totally hysterical!
Jones commands the stage during “Fear of Flying” and “Clean”- a powerful life-changing soliloquy. It’s a heart-wrenching yet optimistic performance that Jones delivers with great emotion. And Botteri is a bundle of energy on ‘The Diabolical.” Together there are some nice harmonies on “The Music” and “I Love You For All Time,” and the outlandish and punkish ‘The Diabolical.”
KAT’s Rooms: A Rock Romance is funny, the songs are great, and the actors are attractive and sing their hearts out. Even when Monica and Ian fight it is impossible to choose sides because both are likable – yet both have very different flaws. It’s a quick 90 minutes, so make room on your calendar to see this fine production of Rooms: A Rock Romance. It will stir the rock star in everyone. It’s diabolically good!
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Rooms: A Rock Romance plays through May 26, 2012 at Kensington Arts Theatre – 3710 Mitchell Street in The Kensington Armory/City Hall, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, call the box office (206) 888-6643, or order them online.
The Rooms: A Rock Romance website.