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LOVE STORY, THE MUSICAL, showcases BW talent at the 14th Street Theatre

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Fanatics of chick flicks virtually swoon when they hear the words, “Love means you never have to say you’re sorry,” or someone hums a bar or two of “Where Do I Begin?” Ah, yes, Andy Williams crooning the theme song from the 1970 film, LOVE STORY, which starred Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw and holds the #9 place on the American Film Institute’s list of “most romantic films of all time.”

An unusual story centers on the film and book.  Eric Segal wrote the screenplay.  In order to give sales a kick start, the movie company asked Segal to write a book version of the script, which would come out on Valentine’s Day.  To the surprise of many, not only did the book become a best seller, but the movie developed a fanatical cult following.

A musical version, LOVE STORY THE MUSICAL, was recently given its Midwest regional premiere by the students of Baldwin Wallace University, in coordination with PlayhouseSquare.

The musical, like the movie and play, centers on Oliver, a rich young WASP, and Jenny, a poor Italian Catholic girl.  Despite their many differences, they fall in love and marry against his father’s wishes.  Oliver is disinherited.  Jenny withdraws from a scholarship to go to Paris to further her budding piano career, in order to pay for Oliver’s law school education.  Unfortunately, while undergoing pregnancy fertility tests, Jenny is diagnosed with leukemia, and dies.

At her funeral, Oliver states the second most quoted lines from the movie, “What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach? The Beatles? And me?”

The musical opened in London in December 2010 to moderate reviews and ran ten weeks.  Its US debut was in Philadelphia in 2012.

The book by Stephen Clark is composed of a series of scenes.  There is a lack of smoothness in the development, causing the emotional impact of the movie’s soppy story to be fragmented, thus not allowing for emotions to build.  Howard Goodall’s music is beautiful.  That’s both a strength and the score’s weakness.  It all sounds pretty much the same.  Like the script, there is little emotional texturing.

A careful observation of the audience the night I saw the play didn’t reveal a single Kleenex to the eye, or gasps of heartfelt emotion from the audience.  That’s a big negative for a story developed with a clear objective of invoking a blathering of tears.

Scott Plate, the director, and his cast cannot be blamed for the lack of emotional reaction.  They did all they could to overcome what they were given.  The voices were all good, the staging effective, the show well paced, the acting effective.

Lucy Anders, who played Jenny the night I saw the show (she alternated with Sara Masterson) was lovely as the high spirited, honest young woman who put love before her career.  (This was 1971, before the age of women’s liberation, so her June Cleaver/Carol Brady actions can be excused or, at least accepted.)  Anders has a lovely singing voice and displayed just the right amount of spunk to be realistic.

Though he lacked the physical appearance of macho-hockey jock Oliver, Zachary Adkins had the right preppy attitude and displayed a nice singing voice.  His strongest scenes were those when he conflicted with Alex Syiek, portraying Oliver’s father.

Syiek and James Penca, as Jenny’s father, were both effective in developing roles well beyond their chronological ages.

Musical director Andrew Leslie Cooper and his band did a nice job of supporting rather than drowning out the singers.  It’s a difficult task in the miniscule 14th Street theatre with its low ceiling and hard walls.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: LOVE STORY was yet another of those special productions resulting from the collaboration of PlayhouseSquare and BW.  Bravos to Scott Plate and his BW students for a well- performed performance of a flawed script and music track.

LOVE STORY THE MUSICAL ran May 3 through May 5, 2013.