The Theatreguide.London Review
Duchess Theatre Winter 2010
Erich Segal's novella and the 1970 movie have long been whipping boys for a particular kind of hippie-era sentimentality and soppiness.
But if anything can rehabilitate Love Story's reputation, it will be this bright, tuneful and amiably modest little musical, transferring to London from a summer season in Chichester.
Segal hit it big by giving his era their version of a Mills & Boon Victorian romance: rich boy meets poor girl, breaks with his family to be with her, gets rich on his own, and they live blissfully until she contracts the Victorian Woman's All-Purpose Wasting Disease (here identified as leukaemia) and dies beautifully.
(I'm not giving anything away - the ending is foretold in the novel's first line and the musical's first song, and we're meant to experience everything through the filter of impending doom.)
How does the musical escape the saccharine gooiness of the novel and film (which has been known to make healthy adults gag)?
Mainly through a sharp-edged book and lyrics by Stephen Clark (to Howard Goodall's music), which emphasise the fun parts of the story and play down the enforced weepiness, and by bright and attractive performances at its centre.
The script may go a little overboard in having the lovers meet cute and wisecrack their way through life, but it's going in the right - i.e., non-soppy – direction.
And besides, he's at Harvard and she's at Radcliffe (the American equivalents of Oxbridge) and so they're entitled to be constantly witty in a brittle Woody Allen-ish way.
Despite the foreboding opening song, the dominant tone of most of the show is light and clever rom-com, a thoroughly amiable atmosphere in which to spend one's time.
Howard Goodall's melodies are pleasant and occasionally witty, as in a brief quoting of the movie's theme. There are, almost inevitably, brief echoes of Stephen Sondheim and one song, 'I never thought,' that is excellent pseudo-Lloyd Webber.
One element that helps keep the tone light is that many of the songs are a character's commentary on the action rather than direct expressions of feeling, giving them a healthy ironic distance - one of the cleverest, 'Linguini', gets us through a year of plot in a celebration of cheap student dinners.
Emma Williams plays the doomed heroine with the keen intelligence and sharp tongue that have been the unique preserve of rom-com lasses since Jane Austen, and brings too much attractive vitality to the role for us to get bogged down in the thought that the girl is going to die.
The role of the boy could have been played by a sufficiently handsome piece of wood, but Michael Xavier gives him more warmth and personality than was absolutely necessary, all to the musical's advantage.
Richard Cordery and Peter Polycarpou also give more than they could have gotten away with as, respectively, the boy's stuffy WASP father and the girl's warm and ethnic dad.
Director Rachel Kavanaugh wisely eschews falling chandeliers and special effects to keep things simple and small-scale, letting the cast move the few basic props around with unobtrusive grace in front of the small onstage orchestra.
This 90-minute show is not the grandest musical in town, but those with a taste for pleasant and unassuming light entertainment will find much to enjoy.
Oh, and unless I missed it, the film's most famous tagline isn't there in the musical, thank heavens.
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