As I entered the auditorium of the Walnut Street Theatre for the American Premiere of LOVE STORY, I noticed a couple tightly grasping paperback editions of the novel, with photos of the movie on the tattered covers. The fans may be older, but they are still out there. As we exited following the musical, this same couple was in the lobby wiping away tears.
One naturally feared that the musical would be a typical-by-the-numbers schlock Broadway version of a hit movie, (check your Broadway listings for numerous examples). But, surprise of surprises, the creators (book and lyrics by Stephen Clark, music and additional lyrics by Howard Goodall, based on the novel by Erich Segal) have taken a highly honest and personal approach to their musical.
The story remains the same. Oliver Barrett IV, a rich, jock, Harvard student, meets poor Italian Radcliffe musician, Jenny Cavilleri,, and their love defies class and family ties. He is handsome, rich and slightly boring, while she is pretty, gritty, and slightly vulgar. They certainly have enough to talk about, and for the first half, most of the songs are internal monologues that occur after short dialogue scenes. One of the most effective scenes, when Oliver takes Jenny to meet his snobby parents, (“Why do I suddenly wish my name was Abigail Adams or Wendy Wasp?”) The entire scene is dialogue, until Jenny is given a private musical moment to contemplate the strange world around her. Another effective moment is the song, “Pasta”, which illustrates the days the couple spend living frugally after Oliver is cut off from his fortune, all during the preparation of many low cost dinners. (Rocky rhymes with gnocchi, and spaghetti with Donizetti). Later as Jenny dreams of having a child she sings “Nocturnes” which describes the music she will share, (Bach, Nina Simone and the Beatles, or course.)
Fans will also be pleased than many of the famous lines from the book and movie have been retained:
“Father: If you marry that girl, I won’t give you the time of day.
Oliver: Father, you don’t know the time of day.”
“It’s like falling off a cliff in slow motion.”
“I want time and you can’t give it to me.”
Howard Goodall’s music is at the heart of the evening’s success. Goodall is primarily known to Americans for his theme to BLACK ADDER, and the haunting musical THE HIRED MAN. Here he plays tribute to Jenny’s love of classical music with an unusual scoring: string septet and piano, well directed by Douglass G. Lutz. The resulting sound is swirling and striking as it moves in and out of the many scenes. One clever bit begins at Jenny’s concert. Instead of Bach, she plays Francis Lai’s familiar “Theme from Love Story”, which quickly morphs into an entirely different, and better, song. Be sure to pick up the London CD on sale in the lobby.
The Walnut production is based on the one in London, which was directed by Rachael Kavanaugh. It has been restaged here by Annabel Bolton on the same set by Peter McKintosh, a large room with white Grecian columns and tall windows. With the orchestra onstage is appears to be a room in a music conservatory, but also effective doubles as a library, or an elegant dining room when furniture is wheeled on. Local costumer Coleen Grady recalls the tasteful upper class fashions of the mid sixties, and Shon Causer’s lighting creates the many moods.
Alexandra Silber as Jenny captures all the grit and joy of the character, with an amazing low belt voice with operatic high notes. Will Reynolds as Oliver is especially effective in the scenes where he challenges his domineering father. The movie featured attractive personalities in these roles, and it is a pleasure to see these characters portrayed by skilled theater artists.
The eternal debate on LOVE STORY (book, movie and now musical) will certainly continue. To some it is honestly passionate, to others it is manipulative bathos. Whatever your taste, fans of the book, Howard Godall, and musical theater will be rewarded.
LOVE STORY, THE MUSICAL
Based on the novel by Erich Segal
Book and Lyrics by Stephen Clark
Music and Additional Lyrics by Howard Goodall
Directed by Annabel Bolton
September 4-October 21, 2012
Walnut Street Theatre
825 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107