At Christmas time, stages are typically filled with either the most familiar entertainments or family-friendly fare. In San Diego, as one approaches the plaza outside of the two indoor stages of The Old Globe, there is a large tree decorated in various Dr. Seuss related items in conjunction with the company's production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which is playing to big crowds. But there is another holiday treat going on right next door in the White Theater with a decidedly more adult attitude. It's a new musical called Some Lovers with book and lyrics from Spring Awakening's Steven Sater and music by Burt Bacharach. The single act has many things going for it, but primary among those is a reminder of what a potent songwriter Bacharach is. Of the songs that make up the score, there's not a dud in the bunch.
On the surface, the show is based on O. Henry's “The Gift of the Magi”. Some Lovers chronicles the ups and downs of a multi-decade love affair through a series of Christmas-time meetings between a couple that is preoccupied with Henry's classic tale. They often read or recite it to one another and, unsurprisingly, parallel some of the key events in the story. The couple is represented on stage by two pairs of performers: a younger version of Molly and Ben: Jenni Barber and Andrew Mueller; and an older and wiser pair played by Michelle Duffy and Jason Danieley. All four performers occupy the same physical space and at times interact with their past/future selves in imagined ways trying to undo the past or remake the future of this unfolding relationship.
But as much as the story owes to “Magi,” perhaps the more dominant archetype here is Sunday in the Park with George. Ben's career as a budding songwriter through its ups and downs is all-consuming, often leaving Molly feeling like a third wheel to Ben's relationship to his art. Of course, Ben's tendency to compose on the piano provides a perfect setting for Bacharach's songs of heartbreak and love gone wrong. The four performers are all given some big solo moments, but the show heats up most in the quartets where past and present intermingle freely. There were some intermittent pitch problems in these group moments and it sounded like Danieley had a worrisome widening vibrato at times. But overall the show's musical qualities are strong and the performances from Mueller and Duffy were first rate.
The show's a pleasure, even if it could probably use a little tightening. After the clouds begin to gather over the young couple's new love, there is a certain repetitiveness to Ben and Molly's conflicts. One argument begins to feel just like the next and a sense of the overall direction and movement of the show gets lost. But for an holiday show with this much lovely music that serves as a respite from family stressors and yet another Nutcracker and Messiah, Some Lovers has little competition. The show runs through December 31 in San Diego so take advantage of this break from the hectic holidays before its gone.