Brian d'Arcy James and Kelli O'Hara in Days of Wine and Roses
Photograph: Courtesy Ahron R. FosterDays of Wine and Roses
  • Theater, Musicals
  • Recommended


Days of Wine and Roses

4 out of 5 stars

Kelli O'Hara and Brian d'Arcy James excel as an alcoholic couple on the rocks.


Time Out says

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

Days of Wine and Roses, a musical treatment of alcoholism, raises a toast that ends in shattered glass. “Magic time” is what Joe (Brian d’Arcy James) calls drinking, and soon he has Kirsten (Kelli O’Hara) caught up in its spell. He’s a Korean War vet who works in the shadier nooks of public relations in the 1950s, greasing the social wheels for his superiors; she’s his boss’s pretty secretary, fresh from the farm and eager for danger. He teaches her to drink—she’s a quick learner—and at first the bottle’s genie grants their wishes: happiness, love, professional success. But beware the gifts of spirits. 

Days of Wine and Roses reunites composer Adam Guettel with playwright Craig Lucas; as in their previous collaboration, 2005’s The Light in the Piazza, the result is ambitious, artful and musically sophisticated. But whereas Piazza delivers a sweeping romantic breadth of Florentine airs, this piece is more intimate and interior in scope, at times claustrophobic. Joe and Kirsten are very nearly the only people in this 105-minute musical who sing at all—their daughter (Tabitha Lawing) has a few lines in the second half—in keeping with the increasingly small world they share. “What about our secret language?” she wails, betrayed, when he decides to go sober. “Who will I talk to?” 

Days of Wine and Roses | Photograph: Joan Marcus

Guettel’s score has the feel of a chamber opera. For moments of drunken euphoria, it dabbles in cocktail jazz: Passages in “Evanesce” sound like vocalese, and in “Are You Blue?” O’Hara scats bebop to herself. But most of it takes an art-song approach, eschewing strong melodies in favor of moment-to-moment expression; some of the lyrics rhyme, some don’t. (The eight-piece band, conducted by Kimberly Grigsby, also plays a lot of underscoring.) This is demanding stuff, both dramatically and musically, but it couldn’t ask for better interpreters than O’Hara and James, two of Broadway’s finest singing actors. Both are superb: Playing “two people stranded at sea,” they navigate their characters’ desperate highs and lows—Joe has a breakdown with flashbacks to his military service, Kirsten hits rock bottom as a slattern in a dingy hotel—with depth, grit and vocal expertise. Byron Jennings, as Kirsten’s heartsick Norwegian father, provides exceptional support.

In adapting the story from JP Miller’s original versions—his teleplay for a 1958 episode of Playhouse 90 and his screenplay for the 1962 film with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick—Guettel and Lucas have made a number of changes that smooth out the telling for modern audiences. Alcoholics Anonymous is no longer mentioned by name, and Kirsten’s role has been expanded throughout. Michael Greif’s elegant and focused production maintains a sense of period without winking at it; the transitions between scenes and locations are surpassingly graceful, and the story’s potential for melodrama is kept in check. (We are no longer privy to Joe’s visits to the sanitarium, for example.) If Days and Wine and Roses isn’t exactly galvanizing—it’s too classy for that—it is effectively sober. After seeing it you might need a drink, or might never want one again. 

Days of Wine and Roses. Studio 54 (Broadway). Book by Craig Lucas. Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel. With Kelli O’Hara, Brian d’Arcy James, Byron Jennings, Tabitha Lawing. Directed by Michael Greif. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission.

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Days of Wine and Roses | Photograph: Joan Marcus


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