Renee Fleming and Douglas Sills ’Living on Love’ in Williamstown
How can love survive? That timeless question will be asked once again in the new comedy "Living on Love," Tony Award-winning playwright Joe DiPietro’s adaptation of Garson Kanin’s little-known 1985 play "Peccadillo," which will premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival Main Stage, July 16-26.
The lovers in question are the long-married opera diva Raquel DeAngelis (played by real-world opera superstar Renee Fleming) and her egomaniacal husband Vito, an Italian conductor with an eye for the ladies (played by Broadway star Douglas Sills). Also on hand are the pair of young ghostwriters, one male and one female, that the couple separately hires to pen their autobiographies, and the couple’s long-suffering gay male servants, who it turns out can teach their masters a thing or two about romance and fidelity.
"I’ve always loved those old comedies about glamorous people that take place in glamorous settings, and this show is very much in that vein," says the openly gay DiPietro, who got the call to work on the show from producer Scott Landis and his wife, director Kathleen Marshall -- and with Fleming already attached to star in the production.
While DiPietro had previously tackled everything from bootlegging in the 1920s ("Nice Work If You Can Get It") to 1950s race relations ("Memphis") to the trials of heterosexual singledom ("I Love You... You’re Perfect... Now Change"), this project marks his first foray in the world of opera. And he dove into it with abandon. "In the original play, Renee’s character was already retired, but I decided since Renee was playing Raquel that our diva should still be working and that she’s just as grand as her husband," he says.
Working with Fleming, he adds, has been a joyous experience. "Renee knows where she naturally lives as an actress, but one of the great things about her is that she’s very game and works so hard. She is really ready for anything" Does that include singing on stage? "At first, we were just going have earlier recordings of Renee’s in the background, but then we decided that Renee should sing live at some point as well," he adds.
Ironically, while Sills is best known for his work in musicals, such as "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and "The Addams Family," his part doesn’t require any singing. "That’s fine with me. In fact, I am happy about it," says the openly gay actor. "When Scott and Kathleen first offered me the role, without an audition no less, I thought ’what’s the catch.’? It’s such a fun part and the material Joe is giving me is just fantastic."
Indeed, Sills confesses that as a young boy, his dream was to be a conductor of a symphony orchestra. "I think I knew it was a position that combines power, art, and prestige. So while other kids wanted to be a fireman, I wanted to be Leonard Bernstein," he says. "And let’s face it, the world we’re depicting here, opera, attracts extreme personalities, and that fits right into of my wheelhouse of what I do on stage."
In true actorly fashion, Sills has done a bit of research for the role, including watching videos of some of the world’s great conductors to accurately mimic their movements. But his biggest challenge has been getting Vito’s Italian accent down pat. "Fortunately, I am working with the world’s best dialect coach, Deborah Hecht, because my Italian sometimes sounds like I am still playing Gomez Addams," he confesses.
For all the comic aspects of the play, though, it’s the heart of the piece that Sills finds most appealing. "How do you let someone truly into your heart after you’ve been married 30 years like Raquel and Vito have?" he notes. "These days, I think a lot about how to love and be loved more fully, and that’s what I am drawing on every day. In the end, we’re all here on earth to give love and find love."