Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Last Romance
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of The Hairy Ape and True West

Lee Riggs, Walt Pedano, and Polly Chapman
Photo by Stephanie Cartwright
Joe DiPietro's The Last Romance is a bittersweet yet heartwarming play that touches upon love, loss, friendship, and the unexpected second chance of romance for its characters, who are all in their twilight years. With a stellar cast and excellent direction, Don Bluth Front Row Theatre's production of this touching and poignant play that conveys the enduring message that it's never too late to find love and happiness is is one of the best productions I've seen them present.

The plot centers around Ralph, a widower about to turn 80 who sees the beautiful and vibrant Carol at his local dog park and pursues a relationship with her. However, navigating through new love late in life turns out to have its challenges, especially when it's difficult to overcome memories of your past and hard to be completely truthful with people you've just met. Ralph's overly protective sister Rose, whom he lives with, turns out to also have some secrets of her own.

DiPietro first found success by writing the book for the musical I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, which also focuses on love and relationships. His plot and dialogue for The Last Romance are fresh, realistic, and funny at times. The plot, while fairly simple, doesn't always go where you think it will, which is refreshing. It's also nice to see fleshed-out older characters represented on stage and topics that touch upon companionship, aging, the fear of abandonment, and the simple desire for human connection.

Cheryl Schaar's direction is flawless. She ensures all four cast members create nuanced, realistic and natural portrayals. The small size of the Don Bluth theater works perfectly for this play to provide an intimacy and immediate connection between the audience and the characters. Schaar's staging uses a nice amount of movement to ensure the audience on all sides of the in-the-round space never miss any important moments, so we're invested in the plot, while also keeping the physical motions of the actors natural so it's never too busy to get in the way of the smart dialogue and the interactions among the characters.

Walt Pedano brings the perfect blend of warmth, wit and vulnerability to the role of Ralph, the optimist who, while looking back at lost opportunities from his past, decides it's time to move forward and find happiness. Pedano elicits a natural ease and a fun sense of playfulness with Ralph's attempt to find a way to overcome Carol's resistance and connect with her while also beautifully portraying the excitement Ralph feels at the possibility of discovering new love.

Polly Chapman is excellent as Carol, delivering a performance full of grace, humor and spirit. Chapman skillfully depicts the initial hesitance that Carol feels when Ralph makes advances toward her as well as how the character warms up once she finds they have a connection. She creates a believable woman filled with humor, charm and warmth. Chapman and Pedano's chemistry is authentic and makes you root for their happiness at finding love later in life.

Lee Riggs delivers a powerful performance as Ralph's overprotective but well-meaning sister Rose, managing to balance the character's endless nagging with her fear of abandonment and change. Riggs beautifully depicts in her portrayal how family relationships can be complex and sometimes cause tension due to sacrifices that are made but how there is also devotion and love beneath Rose's prickly exterior. Riggs also manages to provide much humor to the production with her quick wit and sharp comic timing, and she and Pedano create a realistic pair of bickering but loving siblings. As the Young Man, Jacob Shore sings several impressive bits of opera arias at the scene changes that add a lovely connection to Ralph's character with a voice that is strong, clear and bright.

Schaar's set design is simple, but the gorgeous park backdrop on one wall and lattice-filled greenery and beautiful flower-filled trees on the walls that surround the audience makes us feel like we're n the park with Ralph and Carol. Theresa Knudson's costumes are gorgeous, with all of the characters wearing several different costumes throughout, giving a realistic sense of time passing. The lighting and sound design also immerse the audience in the setting with warm colors and the sounds of barking dogs; the music used to underscore Shore's opera arias is bright and lovely.

With a cast who bring genuine emotions and depth to their performances, insightful direction that highlights the emotional nuance and charm of the story, and bright creative elements, The Last Romance at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre is a beautiful, humorous and moving production.

The Last Romance runs through June 21, 2024, at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, 8989 E. Vía Linda #118, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 480-314-0841.

Director, Scenic & Properties Designer: Cheryl Schaar
Lighting Designers: Bret Reese & Cheryl Schaar
Sound & Music Designers: Roger McKay, Cheryl Schaar & Jacob Shore
Costume Designer: Teresa Knudson
Stage Manager: Malcolm Hooper

Ralph Bellini: Walt Pedano
Carol Reynolds: Polly Chapman
Rose Tagliatelle: Lee Riggs
The Young Man: Jacob Shore