`Romance/Romance' - a musical comedy that lives up to its label

Romance/Romance Two musicals with book and lyrics by Barry Harman, music by Keith Herrmann. Directed by Mr. Harman. Choreography by Pamela Sousa. Starring Scott Bakula, Alison Fraser. In this age of solemn mega-spectacles, ``Romance/ Romance,'' at the Helen Hayes Theatre, is a double-dip rarity: intimate musical comedy that is both musical and comic.

The Off Off Broadway hit by librettist-lyricist Barry Harman and composer Keith Herrmann has become a Broadway offering. Stylishly staged by Mr. Harman, it brightens and lightens the West 44th Street scene.

As the title implies, ``Romance/Romance'' is actually two musicals. Act I, ``The Little Comedy,'' is based on Arthur Schnitzler's turn-of-the-century tale about a pair of Viennese worldings who disguise themselves for an amatory adventure and then run into unforeseen emotions.

The lady's not for spurning

Masquerading as a poor poet, wealthy Alfred (Scott Bakula) conquers the flirtatious heart of Josefine (Alison Fraser), who has assumed the identity and garb of a simple dressmaker. Their disenchanting rustic idyll doesn't leave the masqueraders quite where it found them, as they discover when they resume their former personae and meet again in Vienna. By this time, Alfred is already anticipating new conquests while Josefine contemplates his possibilities as a husband. In the performance of the winsome Miss Fraser, this lady's not for spurning.

``The Little Comedy'' glides along on wings of period-sounding songs admirably sung by Mr. Bakula (of TV's ``Eisenhower and Lutz'') and Fraser. The vocals are interlarded with a series of pas de deux by a ``Him'' and a ``Her'' (Robert Hoshour and Deborah Graham), who smoothly execute choreographer Pamela Sousa's assortment of gallops, polkas, and waltzes. The effect is truly light fantastic.

Surprise! - a pitch for marital fidelity

Act II, ``Summer Share,'' moves to Long Island's Hamptons and ``the current year.'' Drawn from Jules Renard's play ``Pain de M'enage,'' it concerns two married couples enjoying summer refuge from the hustle and hassle of New York. Lenny's (Mr. Hoshour) wife, Monica (Fraser), and Barb's (Miss Graham) husband, Sam (Bakula), are longtime platonic friends.

As the summer passes and the musical numbers come and go, the Sam-Monica relationship threatens to degenerate into an affair. Meanwhile, Lenny and Barb share the scene both as participants and unseen observers. In an age when every form of fiction, beginning with TV commercials, glorifies instant seduction, this small musical's pitch for marital fidelity may come as a poignant surprise.

``Romance/Romance'' is smartly sustained in all departments. Besides the excellent performances by an engaging cast, the credits include Steven Rubin's attractive scenery, Craig Miller's lighting, Steven Jones's costumes, Kathy Sommer's musical direction, and Michael Starobin's orchestrations.

As an unheralded extra, the recorded voice of Nell Carter is heard in the title song.

Hurrah, hurrah for ``Romance/Romance.''

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