While champagne flows freely throughout Joe DiPietro’s boulevard comedy Living on Love, now at the Longacre Theatre, the drink of choice should really be prosecco (even if this is 1957) – not only because one of our main characters is Italian, the tempestuous, vain symphony conductor Maestro Vito De Angelis (a truly hilariously over-the-top Douglas Sills), but because the beverage would be more fitting for the show itself, which sparkles with good-natured humor while never reaching the level of top-shelf comedy. (The play, by the way, is an update of Garson Kanin’s rarely seen Peccadillo.)
As we soon learn, the financially strapped Vito – continually losing gigs to up-and-comer Leonard Bernstein – has agreed to write his autobiography. Unfortunately, his unwillingness to actually work on the book has cost him a half-dozen ghostwriters (including Truman Capote and J.D. Salinger), and he is currently trying the limited patience of his latest scribe, a rather too-serious wannabe novelist named Robert Sansom (played with suitable nerdiness by film and television favorite Jerry O’Connell).
But Robert isn’t particularly interested in Vito or his life; his real aim is to meet Vito’s wife, the legendary “La Diva,” opera singer Raquel De Angelis (played fittingly and quite amusingly by the American opera legend Renee Fleming, in an auspicious Broadway debut). Of course, for all her grand mannerisms, Raquel (like her husband) is basically insecure – aware that the best years of her career may be behind her – and that Vito might bolt any second for a younger woman.
So what’s her answer? Write her own autobiography with the help of the adoring Robert – especially since Vito has co-opted the semi-meek, semi-ambitious assistant editor Iris Peabody (a remarkably amusing Anna Chlumsky), who originally comes to the De Angelis’ stunning penthouse (beautifully designed by Derek McLane) to get the advance money back from Vito.
While romantic complications ensue, and the word “divorce” gets thrown around, there is never any serious question of who will end up with whom at the final curtain. Indeed, the only real surprise here is how and why the couple’s seemingly devoted fawning servants, Eric and Bruce (the fabulous Scott Robertson and Blake Hammond), put up with their enervating employers.
Even with its occasional predictably, the show is often enlivened by the smart choices of the Tony-winning director Kathleen Marshall, whether it’s the “awww” presence of Raquel’s adorable pup, Puccini, an impromptu musical performance of the standard “Makin’ Whoopee” or, especially, the many chances given for Fleming to show off (even briefly) her still-amazing lyric soprano, which for many fans will be the biggest reason to “love” this slight show.