By Erin DeCaprio
alexandrianews.org Theater Review

(courtesy image)

As with much successful theater, it’s not the story but the storytelling that makes Rooms: A Rock Romance such a memorable show. First produced 10 years ago, the “gritty rock musical” set against the backdrop of 1970’s punk scene, follows a familiar path toward fame and fortune, a rocky road paved with blind ambition, romantic entanglement, personal tragedy and ultimate redemption. Opposites attract, and power corrupts, and the price of fame is higher than it seems. These are universal themes that run through Rooms, but the characters, performances, music and staging of MetroStage’s production are extraordinary, delivering 80 minutes of seamless high-energy musical theater that is both powerful and hopeful.

The story follows two young musicians who meet in Glasgow and follow their love of music and yearning to ride the New Wave from London clubs all the way to punk’s Mecca, New York’s CBGB’s. Of course, working class Ian—a troubadour composing on his acoustic guitar, surrounded by posters of Bowie, Lennon and Morrison in his grubby room above a local bar—is an unlikely partner for the bold and ambitious Monica—a self-described “Scottish Jewish Princess” who is out to conquer the musical world by doing “whatever it takes”. She sees Ian’s remarkable musical talent as a valuable resource, and his charming good looks makes her decision to team up with him an easy one. Ian, for his part, just wants to make music, and Monica is something of an irresistible force. And so their journey begins.

Candice Shedd-Thompson takes what could be a cold-hearted cutthroat diva and infuses Monica with a kind of optimism that makes her more of a determined dreamer. Her voice is simply marvelous and versatile, as the hard-rocking, bird-flipping punk as well as the soulful, not-quite-broken cabaret/folk balladeer. Matthew Schleigh is equally impressive, creating a sympathetic artist who yearns for love more than fame and drowns his pain in the same bottle that took his father to an early grave.

As the only two performers on stage, they carry the weight of the show without breaking a sweat, supported by the firm foundation of the music itself, written by Paul Scott Goodman and performed by Matthew Stephens (Musical Director and keyboard), David Cole (guitar), Tony Harrod (guitar), Yusef Chrisholm (bass), and Greg Holloway (drums). The presence of the musicians on stage throughout highlights the importance of the music without drawing attention from the action of the play (book by Goodman and Miriam Gordon). The story is told almost exclusively through the songs, a collection that has traditional Celtic vibe playing in the sandbox with punk, new wave and folk. It sets the place and time even as that targets moves with Ian and Monica from their risqué Bat Mitzvah burlesque through their open-mic pub triumph, and up the London punk charts to their new identities as Lilian Filth and Perry Comatose in halls of Rip Off Records and their ill-fated gig at CBGB’s.

Rooms covers a lot of musical and emotional ground in a very short 80 minutes, flowing fast with an almost impossibly efficient set design from Carl Gudenis. A two-tier platform, a rolling door frame and two wooden chairs work with four simple video screens (projections by Patrick W. Lord) to transform MetroStage’s tiny space into Ian’s Glasgow apartment, Monica’s lavish home (the banquet table effect is a gem of staging that I’ll let you discover yourself), London, New York, and everywhere in between, including flights back and forth across the Atlantic. The set is changed without pause and the costumes (by Stage Manager Michael Sharp) are just as deceptively simple, delivering maximum impact with almost no lost energy on stage. In addition to lighting (by Alexander Keen) that establishes time and place beautifully, the overall technical excellence elevates the production far beyond even the best of local and regional theater.

There are still six chances to catch ROOMS: A Rock Romance at MetroStage. Evening performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. Matinees are Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. through this Sunday, Nov. 11. For ticket information and reservations, call the box office at 703-548-9044 or click here.