Theater review: HART’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do”

"Breaking Up is Hard to Do" features, from left, Emily Warren, Dominic Aquilino, Clara Burrus and Kier Klepzig.
"Breaking Up is Hard to Do" features, from left, Emily Warren, Dominic Aquilino, Clara Burrus and Kier Klepzig.

Remember Neil Sedaka? Remember when the Catskills was a legendary place of song and comedy? Chances are, if you do, you’ll be right at home with Haywood Arts Regional Theatre’s new production of the toe-tapping, tuneful jukebox musical, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, featuring the music of Sedaka.

Jukebox musicals are gaining in popularity: The format is less costly than the major musical productions and are generally filled with songs that strike a nostalgic chord. In this case, it takes us back to the early 1960s, which was more of a holdover from the ’50s. Somewhere between World War II and Vietnam came rock ’n’ roll.  And, in the midst of that, came the pop singers like the prolific Sedaka, who cranked out such tunes as “Calendar Girl,”  “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen,” and the earworm “Laughter In The Rain.”

The show transports us to the final weekend of summer, at a resort (the audience is treated like resort guests throughout the evening, by the way) filled with colorful characters and a  few contrivances worthy of a Love Boat script. Esther Simonwitz owns the resort, and is played with comedic aplomb by HART newcomer Leslie Lang. A widow, Esther is fighting to keep the old resort running, with the help of her ne’er do well comic foil (and second chance romance), Harvey Feldman (played by another first-timer, Keir Klepzig).

The main attraction of Esther’s resort is crooner Del Delmonaco, brought to life by Dominic Aquilino. Indeed, Del is a lounge lizard supreme. Word leaks that an American Bandstand producer is coming to the final performance, and Del dreams of impending super-stardom. His good looks and swagger destine him for an ego deflation before the end of the weekend.

Enter two girlfriends: Marge was left at the altar and Lois encourages her to have a fun weekend distraction. Marge is wonderfully played by Emily Warren, who ends up missing an obvious romantic pairing when Lois sets her up with Del by way of a little white lie that leads to the predictable resolution. Meanwhile, sad-sack-of-a-stage-hand Gabe, who falls for Marge instantly, is the guy everyone is rooting for. He proves to be something of a secret star waiting to be born.

Director Mark Jones has assembled a tight, professional ensemble that elevates the material. The band, on stage and part of the show, is a swinging ensemble and the glue that holds things together. Kelli Mullinix (also music director), Sarah Fowler, Dave Bruce and Sandy Boone play and provide backing vocals throughout the evening.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do runs through Sunday, June 15 at HART in Waynesville, with performances Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. $24 for adults, $20 for seniors, $10 for students.

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