Hollywood: “Ground Zero”–where scandal is tweeted out before it even happens (–particularly if one’s fellow actors aren’t above passing on a reputation-impugning ’blind item’ if it will gain them an advantage!) Here, Movie-star Justin Rush is a man who has everything–including a secret. It seems Tinsel-town’s hottest leading man secretly has the ’hots’ for other men (–leading or otherwise,) and in an industry where chasing the story–whatever it takes–is the key to a high stakes game of fame and fortune, that can be a pretty sticky situation. Such is the premise of David Elzer’s new musical “Justin Love” which had its World Premier on Friday September 21, at Hollywood’s Celebration Theater as the first offering of their 30th Anniversary Season. “When I was working as VP of Publicity for many Studios, these sorts of issues came up pretty regularly,” Elzer explains, “and I always thought it must be incredibly painful for the talent–and the talent’s wife, who must deal with the constant rumors in order to live this kind of ‘hidden’ life. As our culture has grown more celebrity obsessed, I felt it might be interesting to explore–especially the idea of what if either of them actually fell in love and wanted out of the whole charade.”
This timely and tune-filled tale introduces us to Chris Andrews. Brand new to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a writer, he tells the folks back home “Everything smells like oranges and hope!” Stumbling into a temp job as assistant to ‘Buck’ Ralston–a neurotic, castrating, barracuda of a woman, she makes Nurse Ratchet look like Snow White; ironically though, she’s one of the Entertainment industry’s top publicists and expert spin-doctors. (“8 a.m. means 6 a.m. “ she barks “–NOT 6:15!”) Bitchy and demeaning, she regularly calls Chris by any number of condescending ‘female’ names, always reminding him “There are different sets of rules for different people.” Enter Buck’s top client–Justin Rush, a member of La-La Land’s Celebrity-elite who purportedly lives the perfect life with his equally glamorous wife, Amanda Bell (herself a top actress and recording artist.) The last thing any of them needs is nasty gossip–let alone the type that calls the “Macho” (–and very bankable) Action Hero’s sexuality into question. After a physical altercation brought on by one such insinuation during a flashy photo-op-filled bash, Chris helps Justin ‘escape’, wherein the actor confesses the facts: he honestly is gay, and his “marriage‘ (although friendly) is merely a business arrangement designed to advance both his and Amanda‘s careers; but perhaps most significantly, behind the façade he’s very lonely (“Where am I gonna be in ten years,” Justin asks “–some guy being his sued by his Masseuse?!”) At last willing to risk opening up to someone who could love him for who he really is, he senses Chris could be that person. Meanwhile, Amanda herself has a chance meeting with Mitchell Matthews–an old friend from High-school. Forlorn and frustrated over the endless innuendo surrounding the ‘validity’ of her marriage, she too seeks a deeper connection with Mitch. Trouble is, he’s now a Paparazzi photographer–and likewise, one of the best. If matters weren’t complicated enough, there’s the pair of “Adam Lambert Wanna-be‘s” Chris shares an apartment with (–whom, incidentally, he’s supporting–) who couldn’t keep a secret if their lives depended on it. Nonetheless, the two couples take their chances and dare to hope for a good old fashioned (West) Hollywood ending.
One of the strengths the piece possesses is the sharp, relatable and witty book by David Elzer and Patricia Cotter. However, while referring to the production as “A funny and entertaining evening of theatre,” the Writer/Producer divulges that behind all the fancy footwork and rousing routines, there’s a potent message as well. “Be true to who you are,” he stresses; “–Always! Fame, fortune, and success do not matter if you can’t be true to yourself.” In addition, the music by David Manning and Lori Scarlett (–who also penned the lyrics) effectively recalls the best of such contemporary classics as “Rent”, “Newsies” and “Falsettos”. “I knew Lori’s work and knew her songs were the right tone and style for the show,” says Elzer; “She’s the real deal–a brilliant songwriter whose work deserves to be heard.” Notable among the numbers she and Manning have crafted here are “Downey High“–a romantic ode to more innocent bygone days, and the lively comic duet “Why Am I Not Famous Yet?” in which Chris’s roomies voice another side of the trouble with fame (or lack of it) thus providing a shrewd counterpoint to the larger storylines; in the same respect, “Some One Goes First” stands as a bonafide LGBT Anthem for our times. Furthermore, Choreographer Janet Rosten performs terpsichorean miracles in so compact a space–even staging a mini-ballet in “When Your Love Is New”, a living ‘animated’ sequence that presents the colorfully costumed cast exhorting the joys of blossoming (–albeit closely guarded and concealed) relationships. The First Act’s “Doin’ The Superficial” too, is a clever samba-inspired paean to insincerity featuring guests at your standard “A List” cocktail party as they schmooze to the groove, then quickly change partners before the barbs they’re busy whispering behind one another’s backs are noticed…much.
While the entire cast is worthy of a thunderous ovation, Tyler Ledon does an especially awesome job as Chris, through whose eyes the story unfolds. Likable and effective at expressing his emotions via song, he shines in an exceptionally demanding role which requires him to be on stage practically the entire time. Among his finest interludes is the terrific descant, “One Boy” in which Chris allows himself to imagine what being involved with the “Biggest Name” on the ‘Big Screen’ might be like: “I know I’m just his personal coffee bean, but maybe ‘Movie Stars’ get crushes too!” he sings. As for Justin, Adam Huss is handsome, charismatic and similarly has his share of memorable musical moments, including “Who Do You Want Me To Be”, which ranks as one of the better patter songs written for the theater in recent years (–pretty sweet sentiment too!) Without question though, Alet Taylor as “Buck” gives a “mustn’t be missed” performance as the new villainess audiences will relish hating. Arguably, her most impressive turn (–and there are many) occurs with her eleventh hour, “You Don’t Shit Where You Eat!” as she spells out for Chris in no uncertain terms, the stark realities of ’the biz” and his meager place in it. Other standouts are Ciaran McCarthy as Mitch and Carrie St. Louis as Amanda, who together, carry the subplot engagingly and with surprising empathy. Terrific support is also given by Gina Torrecilla and Afton Quast as two reporters from competing “Tabloid T.V. Shows“, who each keep things particularly topical (they even throw in a few quips about the Royal Family’s latest ‘unclothed improprieties’!)
Genuine ‘Charm’ is a rare commodity among new works these days, and “Justin Love” has it in spades. Currently running Thursdays through Sundays until November 18th , curtain times Thursdays through Saturdays are at 8pm, with Sundays Matinees at 2pm. The Celebration Theater is located at 7051B Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA. To make reservations, call (323) 957-1884, or to purchase tickets online, log onto: www.celebrationtheatre.com . Finally the truth can ‘come out‘–”Justin Love” is a show that any fan of refreshingly significant theater will be challenged NOT to love!
PHOTOS By: Michael Lamont Courtesy DemandPR; Special Thanks to David Elzer, Peter Schneider, John Michael Beck and the Cast & Crew Of “Justin Love” at The Celebration Theater in Hollywood for making this story possible.