Between writer's block and a brain tumor, Richard Collier's head is in bad shape. He has fled to a hotel in Michigan, where he stumbles on a portrait of a breathtaking starlet from some 60 years before. That stumble turns into a head-over-heels tumble down the rabbit's hole of love—and time. Gazing at the actress, Richard sings: "I look at you and don't know where I am/ Or where you are/ But there you are."
Yikes. Mellifluous, maybe—and the actor, Andrew Samonsky, has pipes—but also evidence of a musical still working out its kinks. Portland Center Stage's Somewhere in Time is a world premiere with big dreams (writer-producer Ken Davenport hopes to take it to Broadway), and in many respects, it delivers. A swooning romance, it has polished performances and a grander scale than most local theater. But it's also awfully old-fashioned, which will thrill some viewers and kill it for others.
Based on Richard Matheson's 1975 novel and the 1980 film adaptation, Somewhere in Time follows Richard, a playwright who never lived up to his promise, as he transports himself to 1912. The show is a bit pokey up to this point, but it gains energy once Richard arrives in the Edwardian era. There, he meets the pretty actress from the portrait, Elise McKenna (Hannah Elless). It's love at first sight, but courting Elise proves even more difficult than traveling through time, thanks to Elise's despotic Svengali of a manager (Marc Kudisch, relishing but not overplaying his character's chilly sense of cunning).
Director Scott Schwartz harnesses fine performances from the large ensemble of out-of-towners and locals. The technical muscle is likewise impressive, with set parts constantly moving onstage and off (in an instance when Richard fights to remain in the past, the lights flicker and the hotel walls tremble). The songs, by composer Doug Katsaros and lyricist Amanda Yesnowitz, are a mix of dreamy ballads and spunky numbers. Though enjoyable, they have a frustrating sameness.
But the most misguided piece may be Richard's brain tumor, which is a twist absent from the novel or film. While it does provide urgency—Richard has a year to live, at best—it also turns the romance into an illness-induced delusion, dulling its fantastical appeal. Entering the theater, we've already handed over expectations of logic and plausibility—why bog us down with science turned syrupy?
SEE IT: Somewhere in Time is at the Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays, 2 pm Saturdays-Sundays, noon Thursdays through June 30. $30-$70.