E.M. Forster knew how to weave a narrative spell as well as any 20th century English novelist. He was the master of building romantic suspense out of psychological repression. His most famous dictum, “Only connect,” is routinely shown to be much harder in good English society than it sounds.
The moviemaking team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory had great success in mining Forster's oeuvre for lavish epics that couldn't get enough of those grand manors, rolling lawns, prep-school haircuts and fancy tea services. The stage can't compete on the same pictorial front, but plots this well devised and characters this richly distinctive are too valuable a resource to pass up. Which brings us to “A Room With a View,” the rather rudimentary musical version of Forster's 1908 novel that's having its world premiere at the Old Globe.
With music and lyrics by Jeffrey Stock (“Triumph of Love”) and a book by novelist and playwright Marc Acito (who also contributed additional lyrics), the show attempts in as straightforward a manner as possible to translate the novel from the page to the singing stage. This tale of a young English woman's awakening in Florence to the glories of art, love and unruly human nature is efficiently synopsized by Acito. The songs by Stock carefully set up the characters while briskly advancing the action. But the work doesn't pulse with genuine passion — it has the feeling of a commissioned exercise that's competently yet unimaginatively pulled off.