Review: Love Story ***

December 6, 2010

by guest blogger Tom Bovington

It’s been much lauded as the little show that could – Love Story was first produced at the Chichester Theatre festival last year, where Michael Ball fell in love with it and decided to bring it to the West End. Mr Ball was there himself when I saw it last Thursday, sat three rows in front, in the dress circle. The show had been plagued with electrical problems (my companion had seen the show on Tuesday when Monday’s performance had to be postponed). Not much has been made of its movie-based background; instead its famous producer and ’boutique’ musical-feel have been its selling points, which seems odd in the days of Legally Blonde and Shrek.

The show itself was interesting and captivating, but not always emotionally engaging. It tells the classic love story of boy meets girl – here, at Harvard university, where rich Oliver Barrett IV (played by Michael Xavier) meets poor Jenny Cavilleri, portrayed by Emma Williams. They fall in love, marry and then disaster strikes.

The book is written almost like a play, and I found it much more engaging than most of the songs. It is well acted by most of the players, who on the whole avoid that over-the-top style which might stereotype musical theatre. Most of the 90-minute running time falls on Williams and Xavier, with particular mentions to Peter Polycarpou who pops up regularly as Jenny’s father Phil, and Richard Cordery as Oliver’s cold, demanding father.

The score is pretty and definitely lives up to the ’boutique’ musical style. However, very few of the songs are particularly memorable (the main two I can recall are the opening/closing number and a song about the happy couple making pasta) and I didn’t find them that captivating. There were some nice harmonies here and there, but the small cast (which benefits the show, don’t get me wrong) don’t make the most of them. It felt like the songs were being sung in the same low-key way as the play, which was nice stylistically, but just wasn’t my thing. It was a shame, because the final few scenes and songs were really nicely acted and should have been emotional, but I just didn’t connect or care that much about the characters. Michael Xavier had a really nice acting style and a lovely voice, which at times had hints at a nice bright belt, but the full potential of his voice never seemed to be explored. Williams had a lovely American-Italian accent and a bright bubbly character, but her voice didn’t seem to have the power the role required. It’s very possible that the director or musical director demanded this underplayed singing but it didn’t work for me.

The simple set and stunning lighting design create a beautiful piece which is nice to look at and pretty for the ear, but neither emotionally engaging nor feelgood. I am looking forward to the cast recording, to see if the songs are catchier on a second listen but I’m probably not going to be heading back to the Duchess for a second visit, especially not at the prices that they’re charging.

At The Duchess Theatre – booking until April 2011

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