They're Playing Our Song

Original London West End Production 1980 with Tom Conti and Gemma Craven

London Revival 2008 with Alistair McGowan and Connie Fisher


Musical by with book by Neil Simon, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and music by Marvin Hamlisch. Egotistical and mega-successful composer Vernon Gersch takes on a new lyricist, Sonia Walsk - a crazy foolish eccentric, insecure incurable romantic still bruised by a recently ended affair.

Vernon Gersch, a neurotic and successful composer with a host of awards, is paired up with the lovably eccentric Sonia Walsk - a young lyricist who is a hopeless time-keeper and dresses in cast off theatre costumes. The unlikely pairing seems destined to falter off key; can Vernon's egotistical bachelor lifestyle cope with Sonia's ex-boyfriend and her multiple personalities? As their working relationship grows, so do their feelings for each other, to make sweet music all they have to do is work in harmony...

They're Playing Our Song is a semi autobiographical story written by Neil Simon based on the relationship between composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, whose music and words feature in this musical.


Original London West End Production 1980

Previewed 20 September 1980, Opened 1 October 1980, Closed 8 May 1982 at the Shaftesbury Theatre

The Neil Simon, Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager musical They're Playing Our Song in London starring Tom Conti and Gemma Craven

The role of 'Vernon Gersch' was originally played by Tom Conti from Saturday 20 September 1980 to Saturday 18 July 1981, by Martin Shaw from Monday 27 July 1981 to Thursday 11 March 1982, with Tom Conti returning from Friday 12 March 1982 through to the end of the run on Saturday 8 May 1982 (excluding holiday dates).

The role of 'Sonia Walsk' was originally played by Gemma Craven as 'Sonia Walsk' from Saturday 20 September 1980 to Saturday 19 December 1981, and by Shelia Brand from Monday 21 December 1981 through to the end of the run on Saturday 8 May 1982 (excluding holiday dates).

Directed by David Taylor with choreography by Lani Sundsten, sets and projections by Douglas W. Schmidt, costumes by Ann Roth, lighting by Tharon Musser and sound by Tom Morse.

"Neil Simon's musical They're Playing Our Song concerns an affair between a composer and lyricist, which at least adds a new twist to the perennial question of which comes first, the words or the music. I call it Mr Simon's musical, since the book is more important than the score. This may seem odd, given the avocations of the characters - who are reputedly based on Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, the composer and lyricist of the show - but disappointingly little is made of the working relationship. Vernon Gersch and Sonia Walske might be any urban couple in a Neil Simon comedy... Just one scene breaks out; Vernon and Sonia, on their first date, hear their biggest individual hits, back to back, and go into the title number - much the strongest in the score and thence off to bed. Success is an aphrodisiac; there is a point musically and theatrically made. But otherwise the songs are just wan decoration. Mr Hamlisch's music is spineless and Miss Sager's words anonymous... Each protagonist is equipped with a trio of alter egos, mainly there to provide an excuse for a disco sound; the cues for their appearances steadily get thinner and more irritating. There are no other visible characters. The sleek original production has grown somewhat tattered in transit but Douglas W. Schmidt's sets, mainly black-and-white projections retain their sheen." The Observer

"The plot concerns the relationship of Tom Conti, a successful composer of popular songs, and a lyric writer (Gemma Craven) who has also seen some of her work in the charts. He is tense and agitated, with a tendency to use his grand piano as a barrier against the bumpy bits of life. She is forthright, eager and gushing. Neil Simon's book is wonderfully witty when the couple first meet and continue to be so when they become lovers. It is when they break up - for no particular reason as far as I could see - that the show loses its momentum, and again when they kiss and make up without a satisfactory explanation for the reconciliation. Still, these scenes are only disappointing because the rest of the enterprise is so delightful. The songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Carol Bayer Sager are melodious and sharply written and sung with verve by the two leads. Mr Conti and Miss Craven are assisted in their endeavours at times by three fellows and three girls who represent their other selves. A nice idea that enlivens the proceedings considerably... The sets are splendidly realised and Nell Simon's dialogue has never been crisper... With imaginative direction by David Taylor, and finely contrasting performances from the stars the Shaftesbury Theatre should be in business for some time to come." The Daily Express

"Gemma Craven moves into the superstar class with her high energy performance in Neil Simon's comedy of harmony and discord in the New York pop world... Her sassy, high voltage rendition of Marvin Hamlisch's title number is a rousing show stopper... Neil Simon is the master of the slick New Yorker wisecrack and he has written some brilliant lines for Miss Craven and Tom Conti to spray at each other. I've got some reservations about Conti's performance. He's a shade too relaxed and lovable in a role that could do with more acid. He plays successful composer Vernon Gersch whose well-ordered life is shattered when he teams up with aspiring lyricist Sonia Walsk. She is a whirlwind of indecision. Scatty, unpunctual, illogical an emotional Florence Nightingale trying to break off an affair with a neurotic boy called Leon. Vernon and Sonia fall in love, share a bed but their relationship is blighted by midnight calls for help from Leon a character who is never seen. Although not quite the blockbuster I had expected, They're Playing Our Song is slick, amusing entertainment." The Daily Mirror

They're Playing Our Song in London at the Shaftesbury Theatre previewed from 20 September 1980, opened on 1 October 1980 and closed on 8 May 1982


London Revival 2008 Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre

Previewed 25 July 2008, Opened 4 August 2008, Closed 28 September 2008 at the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre.

The cast features Connie Fisher as 'Sonia Walsk' and Alistair McGowan as 'Vernon Gersch'. Directed by Fiona Laird with choreography by Sam Spencer-Lane, designs by Matthew Wright and sound by David Ogilvy.

"When the show based on the real-life affair between lyricist Carole Bayer Sager and composer Marvin Hamlisch first opened in 1979, it felt utterly contemporary with its witty, subversive take on love, fame and psychotherapy. Structured as a classic battle of the sexes neurotic composer Vernon falls for lyricist Sonia but can't cope with her chaotic lifestyle it was a daring postcard from the front line... We haven't seen a revival for almost 30 years. So how does it stand up today? Sadly not that well. Now a nostalgia piece despite the fact that the Abigail's Party decor and costumes are bang-on fashion this season it rarely gets below the surface. Frankly, Harry Met Sally has better, sharper lines. Yes Connie Fisher, who sings her heart out, successfully kills the spectre of Maria, but you can't help noticing there's little real chemistry between her and Alistair McGowan, who looks old enough to be her father... Theatrical devices such as the three-person Greek choruses who accompany both Vernon and Sonia voicing their innermost thoughts) no longer look radical. And the production's expressionist set action takes place on a revolving vinyl single, with a backdrop of sheet music often feels clunky...It's commendable that Fisher wants to branch out, she's on record as saying she'd love to work at the Royal Court and do Shakespeare. But inevitably she's hampered by her lack of life experience there's no way she can convince as a world-weary 30-something New York Jewish broad. She's kooky and exuberant, but watching Barbra Streisand films is no substitute for the real thing." The London Evening Standard

"Alistair McGowan, fresh from his turn as MC in Cabaret, is Vernon. Sonia is played by Connie Fisher. Fisher, for those few who might has missed her is the former telesales girl who won the BBC talent show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? - and the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber's still flourishing production of The Sound of Music... The geeky sweetness Fisher brought to her West End part segues smoothly into the kooky wackiness of her mildly irritating role here. She's outshone in the subtlety stakes by the excellent McGowan but somehow that doesn't matter. She is buoyed by a hilarious book by the Odd Couple's Neil Simon and the effective conceit of the show that both Vernon and Sonia have their own alter egos. Three each, indeed. These provide a charming chorus decked out in flares and bad hairdos in Fiona Laird's inspired seventies pastiche of a production, all staged on a giant revolving vinyl record. The bum note, ironically, is struck by the efforts of Hamlisch and Sager, both award-winners in their time. Their songs here are corny schmaltz peppered with naff rhymes... But with the disarming charm of both McGowan and Fisher, who cares about a little musical mediocrity in this sweet show." The Daily Telegraph

"This musical, staged at the admirable fringe venue of the Menier Chocolate Factory, is an easy enough watch. It doesn't take itself too seriously and there are some fabulously OTT wigs from the era of Jimmy Carter's America. It says a lot for Connie Fisher that she willingly subjects herself to a huge orange hairdo in the first half, which gives her face the length of a baby giraffe. A more selfish performer would have demanded greater projection of glamour. In the second half, happily, she is allowed to sport a more flattering wig closer to her natural gamine look. The tale is based on the love affair between Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, gifted enough in their chosen fields but neither of them exactly worldshattering artists. Miss Fisher's love interest is played by Alistair McGowan, who is trying to broaden his name beyond that of 'TV impressionist'. His straight-up singing voice is well matched to Miss Fisher's, but they both struggle with the Noo Yawk accents required by the roles." The Daily Mail

They're Playing Our Song in London at the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre previewed from 25 July 2008, opened on 4 August 2008 and closed on 28 September 2008