Last summer, “Buck-ing Trends” reported on a special concert engagement of an amazing new musical to be unveiled at New York City’s renowned “Feinstein’s”. Now, nearly a year later, “Love Songs…A Musical” has taken the next step in its evolution, with its official world premiere production at the Attic’s ‘Chromolume Theater’ in Los Angeles California. The creation of composer-lyricist, Steven Cagan “Love Songs” is a completely sung-through story following three couples through whom the vagaries of romance, love, marriage (and all their ensuing consequences) are encountered during one eventful wedding weekend. Jeremy, the Groom-To-Be is stuck out of town, harriedly trying to join up with the wedding party–and most especially Gaby, his impending Bride–in time for the ceremony. Meanwhile, Gaby herself has just discovered that she‘s expecting. Then there’s Sarah, her older sister and Maid of Honor who, for seven years, has been “engaged” to Ben–whose rampant poetic spirit still won’t allow him to firmly commit, while Jeremy’s boss and “Best-man” Roy and his long-time lover Rose cynically profess to be happy just the way they are.
Directed and Choreographed by Kay Cole, creating exciting new theatrical experiences are nothing new for this Broadway Veteran–she originated the role of “Maggie” in the original company of “A Chorus Line”. Since then, she’s gone on to be part of numerous high-profile productions both on-stage and behind the scenes. “Love Songs has always had a special place in my heart, and always will,” she declares and accordingly, she keeps the pace quick, lively and always fluid, cleverly making use of the Chomolume’s entire performance space. In fact, given the six-person cast and the affecting themes, the theater’s intimate ’black-box’ setting makes for an exceptionally good fit, Don’t let the utilitarian backdrop fool you though, “Love Songs…A Musical” is the kind of outing that really grows on you. Cagan’s witty turns-of-phrase and sumptuous melodies contain that rare quality, wherein they actually benefit from being performed live, so don’t be at all surprised when you find yourself humming snippets of this song or that long after you’ve seen it! Indeed, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, the score requires a special attention to its expression; happily, the cast chosen for this first ever complete production truly know how to interpret and enliven every song. Likewise, being a small cast, each have their individual moments in the spot-light–albeit often in some refreshingly unexpected ways.
Jean Altadel is as genuine as the girl-next-door, and with a fresh-faced, ebullient grin she invests “Gaby” with great warm and vivacity, but also a real sense of vulnerability as well. Her touching lullaby, “Sweet Tomorrow”, sung to her unborn child, is the kind of ballad every Broadway Ingénue dreams of introducing; here, Miss Altadel gives it the tender, even loving, rendition a piece like this so richly deserves. By the same token, as her ‘intended’ Jeremy, Eduardo Enrikez demonstrates a compelling mix of manly vitality with glimpses of boyish insecurity, always managing to excel in a fairly tricky role. Unlike the others, his character is purposefully kept apart–isolated throughout much of the goings-on. However, his powerful voice is particularly well-showcased with Jeremy’s second-act soliloquy, “When It’s Over” as he articulates every groom’s pre-wedding jitters (“Time it seems, makes mockery of dreams”, he wistfully acknowledges.)
Ironically, despite Gaby and Jeremy providing the frame-work for all the proceedings, they themselves are not the primary focus of the story. If anything, that distinction goes to Sara J. Stuckey as Sarah and Craig McEldowney as her long-term partner, Ben. Stuckey’s Sarah is a sharp, intelligent and fine-looking woman, but behind her casual, workaday facade, is a closet dreamer–a diva in disguise who longs to be let loose. Her first act proclamation, “Love Me” illustrates her frustrations over the funk her relationship has fallen into, and she effectively provides enough warmth for the number’s overall sentiment, while still filling the entire auditorium with her brilliant vibrato voice. McEldowney’s “Ben” on the other hand is a thoughtful, sensitive soul (he even teaches Poetry at a local college) and for all his high-falutin’ fancy talk (or in this case, singing) he’s the perfect avatar to express some of the show’s more pithier statements, as in his solos “Only You“ and the aptly named “Romance“; conversely, his rapid-fire benediction “Pitter-Patter” provides the second act a nice boost at just the right time. Yet, if Sarah’s and Ben’s relationship is easily the most complex, it’s also the most identifiable. Nonetheless, on this precise weekend, neither is above following where their roving eyes might lead–and in this case, that’s to Roy and Rose.
“After all these many years, can we ever stop playing games?” Roy queries of Jean Kauffman’s saucy “Rose” ; “Never,” she retorts, “it’s what we do best–by now it’s who we are!” Recalling a younger Rita Moreno, Kauffman’s uproarious descant “I’m Old (So I’m Told)” has bona fide showstopper potential, and she turns what is essentially an aging coquette’s lament into an indisputable comedic home-run. Matching her tooth and jowl, barb and boast, is Kurt Andrew Hansen as Roy–a swaggering ’Alpha Male” whose seen it all, done it all (and would still do it all again with whichever female is most handy.) “I’m gonna seize the day, have my way–gonna master all I survey” he warbles in the opening. Appropriately, he delivers “Love Song’s” center-piece number, the gracefully captivating “Carpe Diem”. Together, these two represent the more ‘jaded’ side of love which, though time-worn is similarly time-tested–and every bit as gripping as its more fanciful incarnations. Roy successfully flatters Sarah’s ego (for a time, anyway) simply to savor the satisfaction of conquest, even as Rose prepares to loose her equally nomadic libido on Ben (“Poetry is easy” she tells him seductively; “Honesty is hard.”)
Told in two acts and performed without intermission, after the incredible (and startling) act-break, Musical Director Stuart Elster, (who alternates duties as “Love Song’s” Piano Accompanist with Doug Walter–who
created all the orchestrations and arrangements) launches directly into the ‘molto allegretto’ rhythms of the Entr’acte. The pianist is perhaps the hardest working ‘player’ in the whole show–he never leaves the stage throughout the entire proceedings! Furthermore, for this premier run, Cagan advises that some songs were moved around from earlier concert versions “to achieve a better flow”, and a new number titled “The Gospel Truth”, makes a rousing new addition for this inaugural production. In it, the more ‘seasoned’ couples attempt to give the young Bride some not-so-sound advice regarding the more real-less ideal, ‘not-so-niceties” about residing in the state of holy matrimony. Interesting too, is the way Cole’s choreography has these more ‘practiced’ pairs standing together in unison–the men swaying one way while the women lean toward the other, pointing out the ever-present opposition the sexes have even within romantic relationships.
“Love Songs…A Musical” opened on Saturday, June 22 and will run through July 28, 2013; performance times are Friday and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday Matinees at 2pm. Tickets may be purchased online at www.crtheatre.com, or via telephone at 323-205-1617 (Discounts for students, seniors and children 12 and under are also available) The Chromolume Theatre at the Attic is located at 5429 W. Washington Boulevard (between the 10 freeway and Hauser Boulevard), in Los Angeles. It’s always thrilling to see the launch of a new musical, and as every successful launching deserves a toast, maybe the best and most fitting salutation is expressed by the ensemble themselves as those first few notes are sounded: “To Wedded Bliss As Metaphor, Let There Be ‘Harmony’ Evermore!”
Production Photos By Michael Lamont, courtesy Of Ken Werther Publicity (www.kenwerther.com) Special Thanks To Ken Werther, Steven Cagan, Kay Cole, And To The Cast & Crew Of The Chromolume Theater’s Production Of “Love Songs…A Musical” For Making The Story Possible.