‘Living on Love’ theater review — 2 stars

Opera star Renée Fleming, whose expansive career has ranged from regular appearances at the Metropolitan Opera to recording an indie rock album, now makes her Broadway debut in “Living on Love,” a warm-hearted but unnecessary update by Joe DiPietro (“Memphis”) of a little-known romantic comedy by Garson Kanin (“Born Yesterday”).

Fleming plays Raquel, (no surprise) a diva soprano who has just returned to her Manhattan penthouse after a world concert tour that was less than successful. Her husband Vito (the hammy Douglas Sills) is an equally famous and egotistical Italian opera conductor.

The husband has been driving young ghost writer Robert (Jerry O’Connell) of his autobiography crazy, offering nothing but untrue, contradictory anecdotes, like about having sex with every chorus girl in every opera.

After Raquel takes a liking to the fawning Robert, she asks him to write her autobiography instead, so Vito strikes back by taking on Iris (Anna Chlumsky), also an aspiring writer, and basks in her adoration.

As you can probably guess, it ends with the writers coming together as a romantic pair, followed by the two adults finally reconciling after a considerable amount of theatrics.

Fleming and Sills serve up over-the-top caricatures, while O’Connell and Chlumsky dutifully serve as their pawns and playthings. Fleming occasionally breaks into bits of familiar arias, adding some operatic flavor.

There’s also Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson as their dutiful butlers (who offer a song at one point – for no point) and a dog named (appropriately) Puccini.  

The most inspired bit of comedy involves an encore curtain call that mocks the self-indulgent, overextended ones you can still see during revivals of Franco Zeffirelli productions at the Met.

Directed with Technicolor flair by Kathleen Marshall (“Anything Goes,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It”), “Living on Love” might have been enjoyable were it not for the complete emptiness of the piece itself. Although reminiscent of the screwball film comedies of the 1930s, it never moves beyond a simple, static scenario.

If you go: “Living on Love” plays an open run at the Longacre Theatre. 220 W. 48th St., LivingOnLoveBroadway.com.

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