Eubank gets in on the act for new Riverside production

by | Apr 14, 2024 | ALLFFP, Arts and Entertainment, Fredericksburg

Carson Eubank is usually the music director of the pit orchestra at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, but he steps onto the stage for “They’re Playing Our Song,” which opened April 3 and runs through May 12.

Perhaps being a pianist himself, the role is a natural fit.

“They’re Playing Our Song” is a musical romantic comedy written by Neil Simon with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and music by Marvin Hamlisch. The true life story is based on Sager and Hamlisch’s relationship, told through the characters of lyricist Sonia Walsk and composer Vernon Gersch. The play opened in Los Angeles in December 1978 and on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre on Feb. 11, 1979, where it ran for 1,082 performances. The Broadway show featured Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz (in her Broadway debut).

The Riverside production stars Eubank as Vernon Gersch and Ashlee Waldbauer as Sonia Walsk. While essentially a two-character show, both characters have a team of other voices who serve as their internal monologues.

These are added as singing and dancing parts as a “Greek chorus” with Kevin Cleary, Chris Florio, and Michael Goltry as Vernon’s voices; and Jessica Barraclough, Barbara Breen, and Megan Hasse as Sonia’s voices. Associate director and choreographer Stephanie Wood does an amazing job bringing these additional voices to life to accompany the catchy songs. 

Waldbauer will be a familiar face to Riverside patrons, with previous lead roles in “Ghost” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” As in those roles, she brings real energy and exuberance to Sonia’s character. Her singing is equally strong and melodic. 

This is not Eubank’s first dramatic role at Riverside, having acted in the 2022 production of “Souvenir” with co-lead Andrea Kahane. His voice is a fine foil to Waldbauer’s and their duets are a perfect blend. 

Eubank started his theater experience as an actor and graduated from James Madison University with a theater major, but he was drawn to being an accompanist. 

“Through my time at JMU as a performer, there was a need for accompanists and people to play for voice lessons so I ended up doing that on the side just to make a little money,” he said.

“By the time I became a sophomore year going into junior year, I never switched my major but I started taking almost all of the classes in the music side of the building and was lucky to get a mentor who got me into the higher-level conducting and arranging theory classes so I got the kind of experience of being a music major but was able to build my own degree program. I continued to perform a little bit but shifted my focus to music direction.”

Eubank has served as Riverside’s music director and pianist since 2018. The 2020 COVID production of “Souvenir” had a role for a piano accompanist. which seemed to fit his acting skills so director Patrick A’Hearn asked Eubanks to step out of the orchestra and into a lead acting role. Eubanks reprised the role for a less socially distanced production in 2022.

This gave A’Hearn the idea to do “They’re Playing Our Song.” A’Hearn had a personal connection to Marvin Hamlisch, having toured with the famous Broadway composer in the 90s as a featured singer, and had long wanted to bring this musical to Riverside. 

The quick and witty dialogue between the two lead characters is a key part of the show. Eubank and Waldbauer have great timing that carries the comedy. 

“I think the way the characters talk is of another era; he was writing in the 70s,” Eubank said. “Some of the turns of phrases and the way they created a sentence is not exactly how we talk today. But I think there’s a rhythm to it and the timing is so important to land those jokes. It’s something we spent a lot of time in rehearsals on. With only two people doing those scenes I had a lot of time with Ashley to really nuance and finesse that timing.

“Working with Ashley is a real treat. I think us having fun up there hopefully translates to the audience because that’s the thing with a show like this. If it’s two people on stage for two-and-a-half hours, if they’re not having fun the audience is not going to have fun. I’m glad that the performances so far seem like it translated to the audience.”

With Eubank on stage, musical director duties are led by David Landrum with the support of an excellent eight-piece pit orchestra.

“David is really passionate about the show,” Eubank said. “He’s always loved the score and the show so he was really excited to work on it. Him bringing that energy to the room was helpful to make me feel like I was able to let that part of the job go and felt like he had a good handle on that. I could focus on what I needed to do to be Vernon.”


“They’re Playing Our Song,” Riverside Center for the Performing Arts,95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg

Runs until May 12. Tickets are $55-$82

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