A show by Buffalo-born composer David Shire and witty lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. is always something to celebrate. They are so fearless.
They don't try to sugarcoat anything. Instead, they see the beauty in the messiness and mistakes that make up modern romance.
"A Time for Love," the new revue currently on stage in Studio Arena Theatre, boldly celebrates the potholes in the freeway of love. Most people are bound to see in it something of themselves.
It's based on reality, after all. I heard that in an interview on WNED-FM, one of the authors confessed that the show is based on four marriages -- Shire's two and Maltby's two. That's a lot of life experience.
Conceived by Maltby and Joel Silberman, "A Time for Love" is one of the oddest shows I've ever seen. Performed without intermission, it has only two characters, the Woman (Lois Robbins) and the Man (Brian Sutherland).
And though it has only two actors, you wish it were longer than its running time (80 minutes). That is extremely high praise. One- and two-person shows can often prove wearying. This show, which tracks a couple from courtship through divorce, was anything but.
Some songs are cribbed from earlier Shire/Maltby musicals. Among them are the beautiful "I Hear Bells," from "Starting Here, Starting Now"; "The Story Goes On," from "Baby"; the wistful "One of the Good Guys"; and the hilarious "There."
The new songs, though, are just as good. "Sex and Breakfast" (I almost hate to give away the title) cracked the audience up. "It's Not What I Expected," sung by the newlyweds, is almost uncomfortably honest. "Dating Again," angular and tough, could remind you of Thelonious Monk.
Did I mention how funny these songs are? I don't want to give much away, but just so you get the idea, one song contained a confession along the lines of: "My daughter said the acting bug just bit her/ My teenage son is sleeping with the sitter." This stuff can be so out of bounds. That's the fun of it.
As a composer, Shire tends to let the witty lyrics lead. The music works subtly on your subconscious. Sometimes the melody is rising by half steps, creating a kind of hysteria. Sometimes the rhythm serves to emphasize certain words.
The tunes are very effective. But I think "A Time for Love" could have done more to showcase Shire's gift for writing beautiful ballads. "The Story Goes On" comes close, and so does "One of the Good Guys." But he has written even lovelier songs -- "I Chose Right," from "Baby," comes to mind, and so does "Starting Here, Starting Now."
Robbins and Sutherland are tremendous singers and comedians. She can come off as a bit harsh, but we could chalk that up to the character's personality. Dean Mora, on piano, and Paul Zapalowski, on bass, laid down a spare, sophisticated accompaniment.
And the show was all but stolen by occasional video clips of real-life older couples describing their marriages.
"I met her when we were bowling," one man confides, as his wife beams.
Were these Buffalo folks? They sure sounded like it.
"A Time for Love: Songs From a Marriage"
3 stars (out of 4)
Musical opened Friday and runs through May 13 in Studio Arena Theatre, 710 Main St.
For more information, call 856-5650 or (800) 77-STAGE, or visit www.studioarena.org.