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Room for improvement in clichéd musical

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Steffi DiDomenicantonio and Tim Porter's powerful performances make Rooms worth watching.

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Steffi DiDomenicantonio and Tim Porter's powerful performances make Rooms worth watching. Photo Store

Rooms: A Rock Romance is one of those productions that reminds you of better musicals but is easily forgotten itself.

The familiar-opposites-attract storyline centres on a fame-hungry singer/lyricist who saves a guitar-obsessed loner from his destructive self is not unlike Once, the 2012 Tony Award winner. Their three-year love affair unfolds in the same manner of flashbacks as the popular musical The Last Five Years. And watching a young, ambitious, Jewish powerhouse singer whose idol is Barbra Streisand sing thrillingly can only bring to mind go-getter Rachel Barry of TV's Glee.

It should be pointed out this autobiographical tale by the London husband-and-wife composing team of Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon predates those other works, but all were more original, ambitious and engaging. The Goodman-Gordon book, based on his 1970s-era travails in the rock wars, fuses the standard boy-meet-girl, boy-falls-for-girl set-up with the clichéd meteoric rise and fall of a performing duo, to little consequence.

So don't miss it.

The Winnipeg Studio Theatre cast of Steffi DiDomenicantonio and Tim Porter save the day -- or at least opening night -- with dynamite performances undeserved by this modest 90-minute tuner. DiDomenicantonio is the elephant in Rooms as she displays oversized talent that can't be ignored. What's not to like? The almost 24-year-old Torontonian (her birthday is Sunday) sings beautifully with a crystal-clear voice, lights up the stage and is worthy of membership in that exclusive club of adorables.

Porter, who has to overcome playing an introverted mope, is also a gifted pop vocalist who supplies chemistry to the lovers' unlikely hookup. Both do well with their Scottish burr, an accent that recalls the late-'80s Edinburgh brother act The Proclaimers.

In her search for someone to write music for her song lyrics, Monica is led to Ian's black door. He is content to play his guitar and drink in his room in working-class Scotland circa 1977, but Glasgow's answer to Barbra Streisand, as her dad calls her, is in a hurry to emerge from the pink door of her bedroom in her family's upper-class home and rocket to stardom.

Her motto is WIT ("whatever it takes") and that requires teaming up with "Mister Anti-Social Wanker." What starts out as a strictly professional relationship blooms into something more when he comes to dinner and relates his sudden infatuation in the lovely Friday Night Dress.

Their first gig is at a bat mitzvah, at which they sing the Scottish Jewish Princess, hilariously revealing the girl's burgeoning bisexuality in front of her shocked family. The flak Monica receives makes her feet even itchier to flee her hometown and when she and Ian win a talent contest -- the prize is bus tickets to London -- they are on their way.

The stage is made to resemble a warehouse that's been converted into a performance space, which just happens to be the history of the RMTC Warehouse. Monica and Ian's rooms flank the five-piece backing band, headed by musical director Joseph Tritt, that contributes to the authentic concert feel. Director Kayla Gordon squeezes all the entertainment she can out of the musical numbers, but that still doesn't compel any viewer investment in the romance.

Goodman's songs exhibit few musical hooks, but some are fun to watch for the spirited performance by DiDomenicantonio and Porter. The two take on the stage personas of Lillian Filth and Perry Comatose for their punk band The Diabolicals and rip into the pounding anthem All I Want is Everything, with the requisite expletives, middle fingers and final flash of Lillian's underwear. Then again, New Song for Scotland might be the lamest musical finale ever and should have stayed in Goodman's room.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 G4

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