BWW Reviews: ASPECTS OF LOVE Moving, Problematic and Worthy in Theo Ubique's Gutsy Production
Playing now through April 21, 2013 at the No Exit Café in Rogers Park, and officially opening yesterday, the rarely seen Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Aspects of Love" has been very competently mounted by the consistently high-quality storefront non-Equity company, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre. And this 1989 London show, receiving what I believe is the Chicago premiere of the revised version first mounted in the UK in 1993-4, has been clearly intended by the company to be a follow-up to its phenomenally successful, multi-Jeff Award winning, multi-BroadwayWorld Award winning 2012 production of "A Light in the Piazza," a show with a similar post-war, stylish Continental setting and the seduction of romantic melodies in the air--not much dialogue or dance needed.
Lloyd Webber wrote some of this show during the 1980s with first collaborator Tim Rice, only to get back to those songs and the David Garnett 1955 source novel later in the decade, after the phenomenal success of "The Phantom of the Opera," and with his "Phantom" collaborator Charles Hart and his "Tell Me on a Sunday" collaborator Don Black. (ALW is credited with the music and the book--how often do you see THAT?) And it probably took a personal turn for the future Baron Lloyd-Webber when his marriage to Sarah Brightman was in trouble. They divorced in January of 1990, just before the show debuted in New York with the original four West End leads (Michael Ball, Ann Crumb, Kevin Colson and Kathleen Rowe McAllen), and Brightman later joined the cast of the show in the West End. For this show is certainly about the many types, twists and turns of love--oh, so many.
The show has its cult of followers in the US and elsewhere, and I personally know of several folk who have listened to the Original London Cast Recording over and over again. But, in an estimate given to me by Theo Ubique's artistic director, Fred Anzevino, about 10% of what you will hear at the No Exit is not on that album, as many lyrics were changed for that UK tour twenty years ago.
Some short scenes were cut as well. However, those endless, and perhaps too similar melodies, remain, most particularly and distinctly the show's only break-out hit song, "Love Changes Everything," plus the wistful, "The First Man You Remember," the soaring "Seeing Is Believing," the wrenching "Anything But Lonely," and the whirling frenzy of "Hand Me the Wine and the Dice."
Director Fred Anzevino has assembled almost the same artistic staff and design team as last year's "Piazza" success, and he hired "Piazza" star Kelli Harrington to play Rose Vibert, the character who makes love to four (and probably five) of the other characters during the course of the evening. She is quite a wonder, actually, in this role vaguely reminiscent of a young Desiree in "A Little Night Music," singing beautifully in a blend of Ann Crumb's strong belt and Brightman's airy soprano but sounding like neither. Her acting is fierce and committed, her presence unmistakable. As Alex, the young man who matures from 17 to 34 during the show, Matthew Keffer makes his company debut a strong one, carrying Alex's innocence and growth on his thin frame and broad shoulders, singing with a voice high and bright in the climaxes, surprisingly low and dark on the deeper moments of this vocally challenging role.
As Alex's uncle and Rose's husband, the painter George, Sean Thomas is interesting and brings old world charm, cuddlier than one might imagine, singing simply and forthrightly. And as the Italian sculptress Giulietta, who beds each of the other three leads, Colette Todd is fine, but seems wasted. Having seen her in other productions and knowing what she is capable of, her casting here seems an embarrassment of riches. She needs more to do! In Act Two, we meet 13-15 year-old Jenny, played (to our embarrassment and our reassurance) by the college graduate Rochelle Therrien, lovely and petulant and beguiling as she should be.
The rest of the ensemble joins in dutifully in moving around tables in chairs in time-honored Theo Ubique fashion, including standouts Daniel Waters as Marcel (Rose's put-upon but loyal manager) and William Lucas as her casual lover, Hugo. Also seen in small roles and in the production numbers ("Everybody Loves a Hero" in Act One and the peculiar circus sequence later on, for instance) are Adam Fane, Jamie Finkenthal and Stephanie Hansen. Kudos to each of them.
Director Anzevino, Choreographer and Assistant to the Director James Beaudry and Musical Director Jeremy Ramey keep the action flowing smoothly, carving out as clear a narrative as can be carved out of a story ranging over 17 years and concerning itself so specifically with who loves who, how, why and when. It's a long show, too, and there really isn't much time for anything else, other than a few glimpses of Rose in performance. But part of the genius of the show, and the production, is that every adult (and it IS an adult show) can find themselves among the characters. There are widows and widowers, young lovers, older lovers, intergenerational lovers, out of wedlock lovers and (rare for a Lloyd Webber show) homosexual lovers. And the moment when Kelli Harrington as Rose launches into her theme song/cry of despair, "Anything But Lonely," at the show's climax is one moment that will stay with you for a very long time. It's a remarkable confluence of actress, song, situation and staging that strikes numerous right tones. I got chills.
The design team are all on top of the form here, from the flexible unit set (Adam L. Veness) to the remarkably fluid lights (Michael Nardulli), the lovely period clothes (Bill Morey), the handy props (Paige Keedy) and the smart hair and makeup of Scott Sowinski. And dialect coach J. Kingsford Goode provided Alex with a British accent but everyone else with standard speech (they're in France, speaking what I assume to be French, so in my mind this is absolutely right).
The only real problems with this production are the ones that the show as written presents. Much of the music sounds repetitive, because it is, utilizing snippets of melodies over and over in indistinguishable sequences. The only real dance number, the 7/8 Lloyd Webber tarantella "Hand Me the Wine and the Dice" is thoroughly important to the plot, but is so different from everything that comes before it that it jars the viewer, left wondering if perhaps a little more dance could exist in the first two hours of the proceedings. And the possibilities of incest and statutory rape in the second act are handled as delicately as they possibly can be, but they are still there. Right there, two feet away from you in this case. Like I said, it's a cult show for some, and an adult show for anyone buying a ticket.
I enjoyed this production a lot, and I did see the Broadway production in 1990. I remember thinking at the time that it would be awesome to see it in a much smaller space (fast forward upteen years). And I saw Theo's first preview, last Saturday, so I know the performances here will deeper and smooth out, and soon. There is much to admire here, and much to feel and think about, and to long for and to get swept up in. I do recommend this production for anyone who thinks they might enjoy it. But no, it's not a light-hearted musical comedy by any means, and it's not a dance or scenic spectacular. For those who invest in it, it's a heart-breaking and moving experience for the soul, and one hopes to come out the other side at least as well, if not better than, Rose, Alex, George, Giulietta and Jenny. If "Anything But Lonely" is your motto, just remember, "Love Changes Everything." It really does.
ASPECTS OF LOVE will be performed at the No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood Avenue, Chicago, Thursdays through Sundays from March 14-April 21, 2013. Curtain times are Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 7 pm. Tickets (which include dinner packages at some price levels) at $30-$64 for the regular run. Tickets can be ordered by calling 800-595-4849 or visiting www.theo-u.com. Additional information about the show can be found online or by phone at 773-347-1109.
PHOTO: Colette Todd, Sean Thomas and Kelli Harrington