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From Glasgow Bat-Mitzvohs to the New York Rock Scene
By Irene Backalenick

Theatre critic Irene Backalenick covers theatre for national and regional publications. She has a Ph.D.in theatre criticism from City University Graduate Center. Her book "East Side Story--Ten Years with the Jewish Repertory Theatre" (based on her doctoral thesis) won a first-place national book award in history. Other awards in journalism and theatre criticism include a New York Times Publishers Award (received while writing for The New York Times). Her professional organizations include the American Theatre Critics Association, Association for Jewish Theatre, Outer Critics Circle (on the executive board), Drama Desk, Actors Equity Derwent Committee, and the Connecticut Critics Circle e-mail: ireneback@sbcglobal.net  Web : www.nytheaterscene.com  

 She’s Jewish, he’s Catholic, and all they have in common is formidable musical talent--and Glasgow, Scotland, the place of their births. They meet when she has a gig for a Bat-Mitzvah, and needs some one to write music for her lyrics. Soon they become a rising musical team, battling each other and the powers that be as they claw their way to fame.

No, this is not another “Abie’s Irish Rose,” but a new rock musical called “Rooms.” As part of the current New York Musical Theatre Festival, this piece is like a fresh, invigorating breeze. And though it has a short run here in New York, it can be expected to go on to greater success, much like the two protagonists of its story.

Not that the story about young rock artists who dream of fame is unusual. But it is the two leads in this New York Music Theatre Festival offering—Jeremy Kushnier and Natascia Diaz—who turn the show into something special. Diaz can certainly belt out a tune, when needed, and Kushnier often gets to the heart of it in a quieter style, making the most of the engaging rock music and lyrics which composer/lyricist Paul Scott Goodman provides.

Moreover Kushnier and Diaz have the opportunity to flesh out the two distinctive and decidedly neurotic characters which writers Goodman and Miriam Gordon have concocted. In this boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl tale, the two characters are decidedly different—in fact, at two ends of the spectrum. Monica is driven, as she forges ahead frenetically, dragging Ian behind her. “Don’t you ever sit still?” he asks her. (She moves them from their native Glasgow to London to New York.) He is neurotic, reclusive, simply wanting to stay in his room and write music. She is fearless, he is loaded with anxieties. They are of different faiths and different classes. She is from a well-to-do Jewish family, and he, from the other side of the tracks, was raised by a single mother, abandoned by a drunken father. Can this odd couple actually hang together for the long haul?

Given these sharply-drawn characters so well inhabited by Diaz and Kushnier, “Rooms” becomes an intriguing tale which gathers momentum as it moves along. It lets us down only at its close, as it opts for a schmaltzy ending, out of sync with the show! Yet, all told, this is a most appealing little musical, given its strongly-depicted characters, its performers’ charms, and its likeable rock score.

Watch for “Rooms” to surface in future productions, in other times and places.

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