AISLE SAY: The Walnut Opens the Season with ASPECTS OF LOVE

by Greer Firestone

If there is one ‘given’ in life, it is that love changes everything. It is also the title of one of the most beautiful and haunting tunes ever written by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and the underlying theme of ASPECTS OF LOVE, opening The Walnut Street Theatre’s 203rd season.

Charles Hagerty, Paul Schoeffler and Jennifer Hope Wills in ASPECTS OF LOVE at Walnut Street Theatre. (Photo credit: Mark Garvin)

The NY production opened in 1990 and starred the enigmatic and mercurial Sarah Brightman. Coincidentally, the star of of this show played Christine in “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway.

The piece focuses on the romantic entanglements of actress Rose Vibert,(Jennifer Hope Wills) her admiring fan Alex Dillingham (Charles Haggerty) , his underage cousin Jenny, his uncle George Paul Schoeffler), and George’s mistress over a period of 17 years. The “aspects” of the title refers to the many forms that love takes in the show: love between couples, both as romantic infatuation and as married people; love of children and love of parents.

In addition to the breathtaking and soaring voices of the trio, this is one of the most magnificently designed shows in recent history. The scenic design (John Farrell) and lighting (Jack Jacobs) are derivative of Monet, creating alluring French vistas and charming Italian villas. Combined they are a work of enduring images that create an almost spiritual aura.

An international figure of the stature of Lloyd Webber invites critics of all persuasion. He has been accused of plagiarism by disparate types such as the estate of Puccini in melody lines of his “Phantom” and “Requiem” and  rock icons Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and Rick Wakeman of Yes for “Phantom” riffs. A constant harping by critics regards his consistent incorporation of a show’s most popular melody line throughout. In fact, we hear the strains of “Love Changes Everything” repeatedly in ASPECTS, yet Aisle Say considers that it enhances rather than detracts.

More opera than musical theatre, there are no spoken words. We hear every nuance through the efforts of sound designer David Temby. Sound is a forgotten cast member. If it is bad, the entire production suffers.

Director Bruce Lumpkin has mounted a production that flows seamlessly. He employs his ensemble cast as part of the scenery, continually opening and closing the diaphanous curtains that change the abstract set from one scene to another.

Haggerty’s Alex has a strong high baritone that equals the bass baritone of Schoeffler. (For perspective, Schoeffler recently played Javert in Les Mis:) Both voices meld symphonically with that of Ms Wills’ soprano, whose octave range is as vast as true love itself; their harmonies are rapturous. Wills’ swan song, “Anything But Lonely” is stratospheric. 

This is an event for lovers of musical theater. The show was not a grand success on Broadway and is rarely produced.

The Walnut, America’s oldest theatre, is also the most subscribed house in the world, with 56,000 annual ticket purchasers. They are on top because they take risks. Composer George Gershwin was asked why is love in all his songs. He replied, “Without love, sister, I’d be out of business.” Love cascades from the stage in every aspect in this show.

Book and Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart
Directed by Bruce Lumpkin
September 14-October 23, 2011
Walnut Street Theatre
825 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA

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