Aspects of Love
Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black
Now extended through May 19th!
Dream cast, bravura direction proves love still changes everything
|Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents|
|Aspects of Love|
Review by Lawrence Bommer
Andrew Lloyd Webber may not want to frustrate his audiences, but he does. It’s tempting to slam Phantom of the Opera for its melodramatic overkill and melodic repetitions, but I’ll stick to Aspects of Love, Lloyd Webber’s 1989 half-hit and, we’re told, his most personal musical. It’s a prime case of a perennial problem: The music is willing but the book is weak. Still, compared to the bloated original version that played the late Civic Theatre in 1992, this stream-lined, down-sized version devised by Trevor Nunn in 2010 delivers some glorious goods, melodically though not dramatically. And if there’s any theater that can make silk from a sow’s ear or spin gold from chaff, it’s Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre and its marvelous maestro Fred Anzevino.
No question, this Lloyd Webber score, entirely through-sung, sells itself through more than one song. There’s a supple and elegant melodic inventiveness and a feel for haunting harmonies that almost justifies the constant repetition given such lush ballads as "Love Changes Everything" and "Seeing Is Believing."
Unfortunately, the work is based on David Garnett‘s 1955 novella, a soap-operatic portrait of obsessed lovers who chase each other across two decades (1947-1964). Full of dramatic holes and abrupt transitions, Lloyd Webber’s adaptation only hints at the highlights of the book: His characters don’t develop, they change (or lurch), while the songs, with easy lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart, can’t even chart those changes like Les Miz. They just punch home the dominant emotion, which usually arrives out of nowhere.
However sprawling the time frame, the plot exists in a very small world. The "musical lovers" are Rose Vibert, a rising French actress entranced by Alex, a handsome young Englishman. But fickle, needy Rose falls for Alex’s uncle George who neglects his Italian sculptress/mistress Giulietta to pursue Rose who has left Alex for reasons that escape me. (Busy as they are, Giulietta and Rose manage to carry on an un-clandestine lesbian romance barely hinted at here.) Years later Jenny, the daughter Rose gives George – and whom George loves with more than paternal fondness – falls for Alex, which causes George cardiac distress, thus inducing Alex to leave both Rose and Jenny. He clings to Giulietta whose independence he respects but will no doubt destroy as, predatory but patient, he waits for Jenny to turn legal.
Sped by the songs, the convoluted, soapy story takes on a cartoony silliness that the score is hard put to sober up. Like the self-aware poseurs of “Design For Living,” these infatuates merely play at love. You don’t sense why they fall in love and often not even when. (On top of which, "Life goes on and love goes free" is a pretty paltry moral.) But, no question, Webber, reverting to pastiche, is nonetheless inspired by his usual sources—Puccini, “boulevard” ballads, and waltzes from the golden age of operetta.
So, musically, Aspects of Love is a gem worth polishing, especially, it seems, in Rogers Park. Working without the scenic overkill of the ill-fated Broadway production, Anzevino’s less-is-more staging fits the surprising intimacy of Lloyd Webber’s inspiration and the No Exit Café’s Rogers Park ambiance. And Jeremy Ramey‘s musical direction treats the well-arranged score with a believer’s affection.
The mood-setting design relies on Adam Veness’ hints of the luxurious settings, subtly lit by Michael Vardulli in tandem with Bill Morey’s convincing period costumes, it offers the perfect neutral ground for the show’s too-busy comings and goings. But then, of course, you can blame it on Cupid because “love changes everything.”
Last and best is the dream cast. It’s headed by Sean Thomas who grounds George’s imponderable affections in a complex and vulnerable portrayal. (His lovely waltz duet with Rochelle Therrien‘s Jenny is an infectious delight.) With effortless conviction Kelli Harrington (bearing a remarkable resemblance to Patti LuPone) gives Rose’s contradictory passions a dead-on fervor. (Her "Anything But Lonely" should be played at "last call" at every bar.) Winsome and endowed with a sumptuous tenor, Matthew Keffer wins sympathy for Alex’s dilatory inability to commit to a human, while Collette Todd‘s spunky resilience atones for Giulietta’s sadly truncated role. As always with Theo Ubique, the supporting players crown their careers all over again. That happens a lot on Glenwood Avenue.
Aspects of Love continues through
April 21st May 19th at No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays/Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 7pm. Tickets are $30-$64, and are available by phone (800.595.4849) or online through Tix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Theo-u.com. (Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Adam Veness
Kelli Harrington (Rose Vibert), Collette Todd (Giulietta), Sean Thomas (George), Matthew Keffer (Alex), Daniel Waters (Marcel), Rochelle Therrien (Jenny), William Lucas (Hugo), Jamie Finkenthal (Elizabeth), Adam Fane, Stephanie Hansen (ensemble).
behind the scenes