Do I Hear a Waltz?

Book by Arthur Laurents based on his play The Time of the Cuckoo. Music by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The original Broadway production opened on 18 March 1965 and was directed by John Dexter with choreography by Herbert Ross and Wakefield Poole, running for 220 performances.

Synopsis and Musical Numbers

Leona Samish is a secretary in New York. She is a hard-working woman who brought up her younger brothers and sisters after their parents died and who has earned a steady living for them over the years. There hasn’t been any latitude for the little extras of life. Until now, she has never been abroad, but at last she has made it! She is in Venice and she is thrilled to bits (SOMEONE WOKE UP). She is so thrilled, so wide-eyed, that she does not watch where she is walking and before she knows it she has stepped right off the edge of the pavement into a canal. A damp Leona checks in at the Pensione Fioria and meets her fellow guests. Eddie and Jennifer Yeager are a pair of young Americans who have been living in Rome and who have come to Venice for a holiday break. Eddie is determined to return to America, but Jennifer cannot bear the thought of going back to a country where she is just like all the other young wives, and they are inclined to bicker. The McIlhennys are older and wholly organised into the routine both of their lives and their package holiday. Their hostess, Signora Fioria, is a fine-looking, middle-aged Italian woman of business who, since she has American guests this week, is being pro-American (THIS WEEK AMERICANS). She is particularly pro Eddie Yeager.

Full of enthusiasm for her holiday, Leona anxiously plies the others with martinis and conversation (WHAT DO WE DO? WE FLY!). As they disperse to continue their own lives, she is left to dine alone. Even Fioria has a date and Giovanna, the maid, hurries the meal so that she, too, can go to meet her man. Well, perhaps after all these years Venice will hold a man for Leona. The next morning Leona goes out shopping (GUIDE BOOK) and, amongst the hustling of the Venetian merchants, visitors and urchins, her eye is taken by one lovely, ruby glass goblet in a shop window. The shopkeeper, Renato di Rossi, moves swiftly to her side as she takes up the goblet to look at it. He is an attractive, greying, middle-aged man and he invites conversation. He tells her that the goblet is an eighteenth century piece that has been imitated many times since. But this is the real thing: something special which only someone special would appreciate (SOMEONE LIKE YOU). Renato offers to find her a second glass to make up a pair, he offers generally to help her find her way around the unfamiliarities of Venice, but Leona, set prickling on her defences by his evident attractiveness and charm, declines to buy the goblet and leaves (BARGAINING – cut in the revised version of the show). Later, in the evening, she sits alone in the Piazza San Marco and watches the people, inevitably in pairs, go by.

The next morning, early, Leona slips across to Renato’s shop and buys the goblet and, that same afternoon, a package is delivered to her hotel. It is from the shopkeeper and contains a second goblet, as he had promised. Soon, he arrives himself, but he has not come for payment. He has come to ask Leona to take coffee with him that evening in the Piazza (THINKING). She immediately puts up her guard again, and her suspicions as to the man’s motives are confirmed when the McIlhennys come back from a shopping trip (NO UNDERSTAND). They have with them a set of modern goblets – just like the ones Renato has sold her. In spite of Renato’s affirmation that his glasses are genuine antiques, she cannot stop herself from wanting to believe that they are not. Finally, after a good deal of thought, she agrees to meet him that evening and, when he is gone, she asks Fioria to look at her glasses. They are indeed eighteenth century. Fioria tells Leona to wear something for the evening that will look well in a gondola. The meaning of her words is not lost, for Leona has already been told what gondolas are used for after nightfall. Later in the day, a young lad comes with a message. Renato will be late for his appointment. He has to take one of his children to the doctor. All Leona’s antagonisms are aroused once more as she learns that not only is Renato a father but a married man, and she sends back a message to cancel their evening.

Jennifer has had a row with Eddie and is storming off to bury herself in a cinema, and the disappointed Leona is tempted to join her. This leaves Eddie alone with Fioria and, having pointedly got rid of Giovanna, the pair leave together in a gondola. Leona doesn’t go to the cinema. She leaves Jennifer there and comes back to the pensione just in time to see Eddie and Fioria leaving. Jealousy and anger swell up in her and Renato arrives just in time to take the brunt of her emotions. He answers her questions: yes, he is married but, in a country which allows no divorce, he and his wife have lived out of lovelock for many years and, in any case, they have too many children and too little money to contemplate splitting up. So he looks outside his home for his happiness. Leona is outraged: in America this would be unthinkable, unrespectable or, at the best, regrettable. Renato has only a simple response to that: does this make it wrong, or just wrong in America? Leona is bewildered: where does she stand? Renato can see what her problem is She has come to Venice to find the romance of her dreams and he does not exactly fit the bill. But he wants her, the choice is hers (TAKE THE MOMENT). Leona brings out a handful of notes: they will go to the up-market Harry’s Bar. He takes the money but determines that they will spend their time together at a cafe in the Piazza.

Later that evening, a calmer Jennifer waits for Eddie on the balcony of their room and, like a little girl, wishes on the moon. Fioria, on her balcony, hears Eddie returning to his wife and sees Leona returning from a truly happy evening (MOON IN MY WINDOW). The next day, the women are in glowing form. Eddie is purging his guilty soul by taking Jennifer out for a special evening, while a sleek Leona waits anxiously for some sort of word from Renato. The moment has come for serious words between the Yeagers and Jennifer finally hears why Eddie insists on going back to America: it is to save their marriage. If he stays in Italy he knows that he will have a serious affair with a Fioria and that will be the beginning of the end. He doesn’t want their marriage to go on the rocks (WE’RE GONNA BE ALL RIGHT – the lyrics of this song were revised).

Renato finally arrives just as Leona had begun to give up hope. He has brought her a fine necklace of garnets – her favourite stones. Leona is overjoyed. She has a tangible gift, something material which she can see and touch and understand. At last she can feel the echoings of love inside her (DO I HEAR A WALTZ?). She can even listen to Renato’s pleading that she STAY in Venice beyond the time allotted for her holiday. Leona gives a party for her Venetian friends in the garden of the pensione (PERFECTLY LOVELY COUPLE). During the party Renato’s son comes to find his father with news that the vendor of the necklace is waiting outside for his money. Renato tries to send him away, but a wine-flushed and happy Leona is only too happy to provide the money. When the child brings back some of the notes for Renato as his commission on the sale, Leona’s world crumbles. In spite of Renato’s insistence that he asked for no commission, she bursts out accusingly at him: if it had to be like that, could he not have kept it secret and left her the illusions he knows perfectly well she needed to keep? He wanted only her money, not her.

Sadly, Renato leaves and, when Fioria gently intervenes on Renato’s behalf and Jennifer adds her words to Leona’s distress, Leona drunkenly takes her anguish out on them both by revealing Eddie and Fioria’s evening jaunt of the previous day. When the damage has been done, she is sorry. But it is too late. She was hurt and so she wanted to hurt other people. And now she has nothing (EVERYBODY LOVES LEONA – restored for the revised version). The next day the McIlhennys check out. Eddie and Jennifer are not far behind and Fioria is not sorry. The new people checking in are British (AMERICANS LAST WEEK). When Leona hears that Renato stopped by before she awoke up, she joyfully hurries to the shop to make amends. She finds him there but his manner towards her is different. He knows now that a relationship with her would be impossible. They cannot start again. Now, there is just friendship – and a bittersweet goodbye (THANK YOU).

Songs cut from this production include: PERHAPS, TWO BY TWO, PHILADELPHIA, EVERYBODY LOVES LEONA and alternative versions of WE’RE GONNA BE ALL RIGHT and DO I HEAR A WALTZ?. A revised version of the shoe dropped BARGAINING and restored EVERYBODY LOVE LEONA and revised the lyrics of WE’RE GONNA BE ALL RIGHT by incorporating parts of the previous version of the song. Song ideas that were considered for the show, but which were not written, include CUCKOO, THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES and PUCCHINI.

Mini Gallery

Do I Hear a Waltz? Do I Hear a Waltz? Do I Hear a Waltz? Do I Hear a Waltz?

Purchases from Amazon.com

From left to right above: 1. Do I Hear a Waltz? 1965 Original Broadway Cast CD. 2. Do I Hear a Waltz? Pasadena Playhouse Cast CD. 3. Subways are For Sleeping / Do I Hear a Waltz? Percy Faith and His Orchestra CD. 4. Do I Hear a Waltz? Script. 5. Do I Hear a Waltz? Vocal Score.

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