ALONG COMES BUCK: Wilson, Jr. and Edwards.
Paris by Night, the musical play — as opposed to a straight musical, if you’ll pardon the expression — that’s getting its world premiere at Trinity Repertory Company through June 1, is a pleasant enough excursion. It’s a romantic stroll along the Seine that will remind you of every dewy-eyed loving glance Audrey Hepburn or Gene Kelly ever exchanged on the silver screen. That, sweetly enough, is all it intends; whether that’s enough to intend is a separate matter worth discussing.
The book and lyrics are by Curt Columbus, the theater’s artistic director, and the music is by Andre Pluess and Amy Warren. The 14 songs are the best thing about this offering. They’re not songs that stand out to call attention to themselves, as they would in a Broadway musical. No, most ease out of the action as they express the characters’ thoughts like Jacques Brel ruminations, sometimes accompanied so quietly that the piano, bass, and drums seem hesitant to interrupt.
And the voices — every one of them is a pleasure. It’s no secret that Rachael Warren sings angelically, but who knew that Stephen Berenson had such a beautiful singing voice? I had to be reminded that he got his start in summer stock musicals.
The simple story that unfolds is of two parallel romances taking place in the Paris of 1960, which provides a patina of long ago and far away. The central character is Sam (Joe Wilson Jr.), in self-imposed exile from failed love in San Francisco, with a man to whom he is accumulating a shoebox of unsent letters. He refuses to give up his celibacy or even cruise the nightspots, supposedly because if word got out that he was gay, it would ruin his occupation as a tattoo artist. His psychological opposite is Harry (Berenson), an independently wealthy man about town and Sam’s oldest friend, in both senses. Every night till dawn, Harry is out nightclubbing and tomcatting on the gay scene, but he can never get Sam to join him.
On the heterosexual front is Marie (Warren), a jazz club singer in love with Frank (Mauro Hantman), a GI stationed in Germany, who often comes to Paris on leave. He’s an obnoxious sort, a classic Ugly American prone to shouting across a café to demand a waiter’s immediate service. Again we have a stark contrast, in the person of Frank’s friend Patrick (Stephen Thorne), a comically nervous guy helplessly smitten by Marie, who sees him only as a sympathetic friend.
Then along comes Buck, breezily played by James Royce Edwards. He’s also a GI, and an amateur boxer. He strolls into the tattoo parlor with a peppy personality that could charm the birds down from the trees, as Sam observes more than once. Sam’s resolve to never get close to anyone again begins to crumble.