You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Love Story

Both the material and Rachel Kavanaugh's skilled production are as tasteful as the elegantly dressed band.

Jenny Cavalleri - Emma Williams
Oliver Barrett IV - Michael Xavier
Phil Cavalleri - Peter Polycarpou
Oliver Barrett III - Richard Cordery

Given the tear-jerking combination of love and death in Erich Segal’s famous “Love Story,” the easy route for this tuner revamp would have been to ramp up passion with high emoting and a sob-inducing orchestral sweep. But Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark’s new tuner turns out to be a model of restraint. Both the material and Rachel Kavanaugh’s skilled production are as tasteful as the elegantly dressed band of piano, guitar, double-bass and string quartet who are onstage throughout. Sadly, however, it proves possible to drown in good taste.

The best news is that the commercial urge merely to put the movie onstage has been resisted. Locations are shifted and scenes deftly sharpened for this stage translation of the tale of preppy lawyer Oliver Barrett IV and working-class muso Jenny Cavalleri. Better yet, Francis Lai’s theme, shamelessly overused in the movie, makes just one appearance, transformed into a sub-Bach prelude at the recital that Jenny gives.

Retaining the film’s flashback structure, the show opens at Jenny’s funeral on Peter McKintosh’s single white-room set with the plaintive and beautifully sung “What can you say about a girl?” a number handed around the black-dressed cast in solos and a trio, who fill the audience in on Jenny’s character.

The welcome surprise here is that Jenny (sweetly voiced Emma Williams) joins in, neatly signaling the production’s ability to remain true to the original without doggedly sticking to its letter. This also suggests that the addition of music will strengthen the material.

Yet, although Goodall’s chamber-sized score is neatly threaded in and out of Stephen Clark’s book scenes, it feels more illustrative than dynamic. Structurally, Goodall’s scrupulously well-harmonized phrases wind up feeling on a par with the repetitive, downward cycles of phrasing of Michel Legrand’s music. The tone feels gently reflective and woebegone almost throughout, and the colors it adds are distinctly pastel where something more primary might add much-needed punch.

The exception is a Rossini-like comic patter song about the pasta that new wife Jenny ceaselessly cooks. Rhyming tagliatelli, vermicelli and every other shape imaginable, the number smartly telescopes time showing her years at home as Oliver goes through law school. And there’s further sensory pleasure, too, as Kavanaugh has Williams gleefully cooking on a real stove.

Elsewhere, too many of the lyrics feel distinctly contrived. When Jenny sings of her hoped-for children, “I will play my kids nocturnes/ If they feel they’re alone/ I will soothe them with Schumann/ And some Nina Simone,” it’s the rhyme rather than the meaning that is uppermost. In the same song, Jenny completes a line with the word “not” in order to end with “I know they’ll love Joplin/ Both Janis and Scott.”

Easeful, suitably handsome Michael Xavier is perhaps not ideal casting as a hockey-jock, but he’s perfectly convincing as a suited young lawyer. Yet even he cannot flesh out priggish, one-dimensional Oliver, who exists solely to fall in love, hate his father and then be sad. Jenny’s character fares a little better, because singing fills out her feistiness and she gets to be noble in death.

The father/son dilemma remains as conveniently underwritten as before, presumably because if you open it up to examination, the final payoff collapses. More problematically still, the supremely tasteful script and production present Oliver and Jenny’s relationship as so extraordinarily tidy and neat as to feel airbrushed. They bicker and flirt, then sing of their love and clasp each other appropriately, but even in (perfectly pressed) underwear, they generate zero sexual tension.

The crucial elements missing are telling detail and the messiness of relationships, not least in death. Yet the tear-stained faces at the end of the press matinee suggest that the combination of abiding sentimentality, economic scale and, of course, a world-famous title should ensure a future for the show in regional and amateur companies. But only those already immensely well-disposed toward the material are likely to fall for its manicured charms.

Love Story

Duchess Theater, London;476 seats; £55 $86.45 top

Production: A Michael Ball, Adam Spiegel and Stephen Waley-Cohen presentation of a musical in one act, music and additional lyrics by Howard Goodall; book and lyrics by Stephen Clark. Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh. Musical direction, Stephen Ridley.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Peter McKintosh; lighting, Howard Harrison; sound, Matt McKenzie; musical staging, Lizzi Gee; production stage manager, Dan Watkins. Reviewed, Dec. 4, 2010. Opened, Dec. 6. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.

Cast: Jenny Cavalleri - Emma Williams
Oliver Barrett IV - Michael Xavier
Phil Cavalleri - Peter Polycarpou
Oliver Barrett III - Richard CorderyWith Lillie Flynn, Jan Hartley, Paul Kemble, Christopher Killik, Gary Milner, Jamie Muscato, Julie Stark, Rebecca Trehearn.

More Legit

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

  • Hadestown Broadway

    'Hadestown': Inside the Musical's 12-Year Odyssey to Broadway

    “Hadestown’s” 12-year journey to Broadway was an odyssey in its own right.  Singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s buzzy musical, a folk-operatic retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus, a musician who ventures to the underworld to rescue his fiancée, Eurydice, was in development for more than a decade before arriving on the New York stage. The show [...]

  • Elaine May in The Waverly Gallery

    Playwright Kenneth Lonergan on the Genius of His 'Waverly Gallery' Star Elaine May

    When Elaine May agreed to be in my play, “The Waverly Gallery,” naturally I was ecstatic. I had admired her as a director, writer, actor and sketch comedian since high school, when my friend Patsy Broderick made me listen to the album “Nichols and May Examine Doctors.” I didn’t know then that I had already seen Elaine’s [...]

  • Lisbeth R Barron Investment Banker

    Investment Banker Lisbeth R. Barron on How She Became a Broadway Deal Specialist

    If you want to get a deal done on Broadway, call Lisbeth R. Barron. Barron is a veteran investment banker who launched her own shingle, Barron Intl. Group, in 2015. She has brokered a slew of deals throughout her career — which has included stops at S.G. Warburg and Bear Stearns — involving companies and [...]

  • The Lion King Frozen Disney on

    Disney Theatrical Celebrates 25 Years on Broadway

    The Disney brand is known worldwide for its family-friendly entertainment with a flair for magic, music and spectacle, but when its adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” hit Broadway in 1994, success wasn’t guaranteed. Variety’s positive review by Jeremy Gerard noted, “It will almost certainly be met with varying levels of derision by Broadway traditionalists.” [...]

  • The Prom Broadway

    'The Prom': How the Little Show That Could Found Its Way to the Tonys Dance

    Does a Broadway musical still count as an underdog if it’s got über-producer Ryan Murphy in its corner? It does if it’s “The Prom,” the labor of love from a team of Broadway veterans that’s carving out a place for itself as an original story on a street full of familiar titles and well-known brands. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content