Theater review: ‘Five Course Love’ at Winter Park Playhouse

By Elizabeth Maupin
Elizabeth Maupin on Theater

Everybody knows nowadays that there’s plenty of drama in restaurants: Just look at all the TV shows set around those mammoth industrial ovens, where muscle-laden men wield blow torches merely to ignite a dozen delicate little crème brulées.

But if you doubt that restaurants also lend themselves to laughs, you have only to venture into Five Course Love, a musical with no more heft than a cheese doodle but one that’s likely to induce chortling – if also to leave you wondering whether you had anything to eat at all.

Composer-lyricist Gregg Coffin’s Five Course Love, which ran off-Broadway for a couple of months in 2005, is actually a string of five little scenes above love and romance, in which the restaurant setting is immaterial except for the fact that there’s a waiter standing by. The situations vary mainly in the restaurant’s ethnicity: The Italian restaurant plays host to some Mafia-style passion, a German restaurant lends itself to some daffy German folk dancing, and so on.

And, lest you think this is a musical for Valentines, there’s no more sentiment here than the kind you can drum up in 20 minutes or so among characters wearing very odd clothes.

Check out the lederhosen that Mark Baratelli wears as a German waiter who holds out the bottom of his shorts legs like a little girl playing with the hem of her skirt. Or the Zorro get-up that Christopher Alan Norton wears as a Mexican bandito-hero, whose sombrero drips with ball fringe and whose black mask keeps slipping.

Both of them are welcome additions to the Winter Park Playhouse ensemble, and even more so is Michelle Knight as a series of crazily impassioned heroines, from the Married to the Mob-like moll in the Italian scene, who is torn between Nicky and Gino, to a truly dangerous-looking cowgirl and a German dominatrix who never says nein.

The songs are absolutely forgettable, although the lyrics can be funny (this may be the first musical that mentions a “pelvis full of joy”). It’s too bad that you can miss many of the lyrics because the actors’ voices don’t always fill the little theater. Unfortunate, too, that most of the scenes have one or two songs too many, and director Michael Edwards has let them drag on: A show that lasted 90 minutes off-Broadway stretches to two hours here.

Before that happens, though, you may find yourself getting pretty fond of a trio of actors who are so committed that, well, they may wind up being committed. Norton, who appeared in Mad Cow Theatre’s Company, makes a terrific leather-jacketed greaser in a diner scene and dies a handsome, if protracted, death as the adulterous Gino; Baratelli, who is known more as an improv guy and a producer, brings angst to his Italian waiter and more than a touch of comic dementia to the German one. (Credit choreographer Roy Alan for the lunatic German dance, the highlight of the show.)

And Knight – who played Sarah Brown in the Orlando Philharmonic/Mad Cow Guys and Dolls and Eliza Doolittle in their My Fair Lady, and who has appeared on Broadway and toured in Jersey Boys – finds loads of silly sex appeal in all her characters and brings so much life to each one of them that you almost forget they’re just cartoons. Knight and her cohorts hold the key to Five Course Love: It’s the cooks who make the dish.

‘Five Course Love’

  • What: Winter Park Playhouse production of Gregg Coffin musical.
  • Where: Winter Park Playhouse, 711-C Orange Ave., Winter Park.
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 13.
  • Running time: Two hours, including intermission.
  • Cost: $26 and $35 general, $26 and $33 seniors, $20 students and entertainment-industry professionals.
  • Call: 407-645-0145.
  • Online: winterparkplayhouse.org.

Photo of Michelle Knight, Mark Baratelli and Christopher Alan Norton courtesy of Winter Park Playhouse.

Copyright 2011 by Elizabeth Maupin.

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