Tonight courtesy of a local publicist I was treated to Love Story at the Duchess Theater. I have to say, I wasn’t really raging to see a play about a love affair terminated by cancer in the middle of the January doldrums, despite a quite positive review by the West End Whingers. Salad Days (“the musical about the magical piano that makes people dance and sing!”) was much more my speed. Still, I have a devotion to the new in theater – I want to see what’s being created and am an enthusiast for moving the art forward by building the canon. And a new musical is actually a rare thing – you don’t get many in a year (and sometimes none, it seems) – so you want to go out and see it while it’s fresh and alive and see if you’ve got yourself something with legs. Or, if you’re morbid, the next Carrie: the Musical.
Love Story seems like a professional job, although I found the trio of women singing in the opening number (“About a Girl?”) to have thin voices and an occasional wobble. But I loved the orchestration – a grand piano and string septet (including guitar) – and having the musicians onstage at all time did a nice job both of making the show look and sound good AND emphasize the musical background that Jenny Cavilleri (Emma Williams) is aiming for when she decides to give it all up and help support her freshly-minted husband Oliver (the impossibly tall Michael Xavier) get through law school.
The key drama in this story – the first half, anyway – is how a poor college student (I can’t imagine anyone from Radcliffe being anything other than born with a silver spoon in their mouth, but what do I know) manages to fall in love with and become the object of affection of a rich “preppy bastard.” She starts off with a chip on her shoulder, he is impossibly arrogant, but somehow her come-on line of “I like your body” overcomes their mutual rudeness and aversion and leads to post-hockey passion.
Oliver is really immature, selfish, and disagreeable, and I have to say, I can’t see just what it is that makes Jenny pursue him. She really seems to be on to something when she accuses Oliver of just going for her to alienate his WASP parents – but might she actually be going for him to get at his money? In a scene in which she sings about all of the pasta she’s cooking for him as he goes through law school, it’s clear that she’s in it thick or thin, but I find it impossible to understand her attraction to him. It’s the biggest hole in the plot and seriously undermines the tragedy of this show. Which, as you are told in the opening scene, is that Jenny will die at twenty five, leaving Oliver behind to sort out his issues with his father and probably marry someone who’s going to make his law career more successful.
While I liked how briskly this show moved along (1:45, no interval and not enough time to get the “rebelling from Oliver III” plotline taken care of), I wasn’t really captured by the songs and couldn’t empathize with the leads. Emma Williams was very believable in her role, though, with a nice singing voice (and piano playing skills). There were sniffs and sobs at the end and about 15 people went for a standing ovation, so I could just be a little hard hearted; clearly Love Story hit a nerve for many of the people in the audience. Me, though, I wish Jenny had gone for her piano career and left Oliver sitting on his ass; it’s just what he deserved and it would have been a much happier ending for me if she’d actually died having lived her dreams rather than sacrificing herself for someone who clearly didn’t deserve it.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, January 25th, 2011. The Olivier-nominated Love Story finishes its run at the end of February.)