“Days of Wine and Roses” is a soaring modern operatic soap opera

By Lucy Komisar

Kelli O’Hara is spectacular in “Days of Wine and Roses.” Sometimes her voice soars so high that you don’t pay attention to the lyrics. It’s a depressing play about two alcoholics, one who recovers and one who doesn’t. But in her operatic soprano, you can listen to the joyous sounds that that give you a lift even as what’s unfolding on stage is a downer. This is not unusual in the opera canon. The book is by Craig Lucas and the bracing modern music and lyrics by Adam Guettel.

Brian d’Arcy James as Joe Clay and Kelli O’Hara as Kirsten Arnesen, photo Joan Marcus.

Kirsten Arnesen (Kelli O’Hara) works for the boss of a New York PR firm where Joe Clay (Brian D’Arcy James), just back from the Korean War, is employed. He doesn’t want to talk about the war, and you get the feeling that the horrific experience has turned him to drink.

She doesn’t drink, she likes chocolates, but in their flirty getting together, he presents her with a Brandy Alexander. And the cocktail will break loose the alcoholism hidden in her dna.

Kelli O’Hara as Kirsten Arnesen and Brian d’Arcy James as Joe Clay, photo Joan Marcus.

Though director Michael Greif skillfully navigates the fine line between chamber opera and soap opera, the play retains a strong 50s soap opera essence. 

They marry, have a baby, and he is angry when she pays attention to the baby instead of him. Very 1950s.

He forgets a meeting, probably has made other mistakes, and is sent to Houston to a lesser account. She stays in New York. I like the jazzy number where she vacuums the apartment while dancing and boozing.

He is fired. They move to Long Island to her father’s place, where he runs a flower business. Bryon Jenning does a fine turn as Mr. Arneson, a first generation Norwegian whose faces flashes the fury at what Clay did to his daughter.

Brian d’Arcy James as Joe Clay and Kelli O’Hara as Kirsten Arnesen, photo Joan Marcus.

They’re on the wagon and fall off. 

 Kirsten’s songs and Joe’s – because D’Arcy James also has a fine voice and actor’s presence  – keep you connected, though in the end, the songs can’t cancel the tragedy. But wait, think of this as an opera, which mostly ends badly. The acting is excellent. And you will love the voices.

Days of Wine and Roses.” Book by Craig Lucas, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, directed by Michael Greif. Based on screenplay by JP Miller adapted from his 1958 teleplay. Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St, (bet Bway and 8th Ave). Tkts 833-274-8497. Opened Jan 28, 2024, closes March 31, 2024. Review on NY Theatre Wire.

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