Theater review: 'Five Course Love' from Winter Park Playhouse

"Five Course Love" is one of those comedies that in order to work at all, its actors need to charge through it full-tilt.

Luckily, director Michael Edwards found three actors up to the challenge — all new to the Winter Park Playhouse stage. The result? A feast of laughs, even if the dinner party goes on a bit too long.

Making its Central Florida debut at the Playhouse, "Five Course Love" tells five stories, played out in five different restaurants. The same three actors play the characters in each of the tales of the heart.

The character's songs reflect each scene's cuisine. So, a barbecue joint saddles up a country line-dance. And an Italian eatery features operatic singing.

But none of it is to be taken seriously: The show, which had a 2005 off-Broadway run, is actually mocking the styles it is performing. Spanish R's are exaggeratedly rolled off the tongue, and an operatic death is milked for all it's worth.

The show owes a debt to "The Musical of Musicals: The Musical," which spoofs musical-theater styles in similar fashion: A small cast playing multiple parts in several stories.

The lyrics in "Musical of Musicals" are more clever — but aiming a little lower in the smarts department doesn't make "Five Course Love" less funny.

That's obvious in the way Michelle Knight pouts and prances through "Gretchen's Lament," a little German number about how she wants her men to measure up. Yes, it's an anatomical reference. And if you're unclear about what she means, Knight and her riding crop will be happy to demonstrate.

Norton has the widest range, equally amusing as a nerdy loser in love and a dim-bulb Elvis wannabe. And he gleefully strides across the stage, flowing cape, as a Zorro-like Mexican hero.

As for Baratelli, he has that appealing desperate air of a clown, whether as an Italian waiter in fear for his life, or a German realizing his dominatrix girlfriend and his secret boyfriend have arrived simultaneously at his restaurant. And he has the most fun with the various cartoon accents employed.

The first act, which features a barbecue-joint blind date and a mafia soap opera, is tighter than the second, planted even more firmly in the realm of fantasy. By the time the final story starts — with a '50s diner pastiche — you feel as though you know what's coming. (Though you may be wrong as writer Gregg Coffin puts a twist on the ending.)

Opening night had some ragged moments: Actors were hard to hear over the two-man pit band in the first few songs, though that problem disappeared as the show progressed. Costuming wasn't always cooperative: Men's mustaches appeared and disappeared. A mask refused to stay in place. And I was mentally willing Knight's pink cowboy hat to stay on her Dolly Parton hairdo, distracting me from the funny lyrics to "I Loved You When I Thought Your Name Was Ken." (Her character in that scene is named Barbie.)

As with all spoofs, there's a whiff of ham in the air. But there's a lot of pleasure in watching these actors chew the scenery.

Matthew J. Palm can be reached at 407-420-5038 or mpalm@orlandosentinel.com.

See for yourself

What: Winter Park Playhouse production of 'Five Course Love,' a musical by Gregg Coffin

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 13

Where: Winter Park Playhouse, 711-C N. Orange Ave., Winter Park

Tickets: $35, adults; $33, seniors, $26, matinees; $20, students and entertainment-industry professionals.

Call: 407-645-0145

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