BWW Review: LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE Dazzles Audiences with Original Film Clips Immersed in an Entertaining Jukebox Musical
LOVE ACTUALLY, a 2003 film written and directed by Richard Curtis, follows the lives of eight very different couples dealing with their love lives in various loosely interrelated tales, all set during the frantic month before Christmas in London, England. Its message that love is all you really need begins with a voiceover in which Hugh Grant as David comments that whenever he gets gloomy about the state of the world, he remembers the pure uncomplicated love he has witnessed at the arrival terminal at Heathrow as friends and families welcome their loved ones. From there, the film goes on to tell the "love stories" all eight of which wind up intertwining by the end of the film.
The film's soundtrack was a major hit, reaching the top 40 on the US Billboard 200 in 2006. What made its eclectic mix of music so great was how perfectly the songs were married to the many unforgettable, heartwarming and heartbreaking moments in the film as each of the love stories was told. The 36-song score includes such favorites as "Jump (For My Love)," "Take Me As I Am," "Puppy Love," "Smooth," "Both Sides Now," and "God Only Knows."Taking the film and its music to the next level, The Wallis and For The Record are presenting a holiday season encore of last year's LOVE, ACTUALLY LIVE world premiere in the Bram Stoker Theater at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills through December 29. The multimedia presentation, adapted and directed by Anderson Davis with musical supervision by Jesse Vargas, turns the theater into a giant, immersive, cinema in a three-dimensional world where the film and live action seamlessly intertwine throughout the London setting. During its World Premiere last December, more than 12,000 people flocked to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts to see this exceptional staging, which uniquely brings together friends and family alike to experience the unforgettable holiday classic in a three-dimensional world where the film and live action seamlessly intertwine throughout the London setting thanks to the multi-level scenic design by Matthew Steinbrenner. Michael Berger's lighting design effectively highlights each character's appearances not only onstage but in the theater aisles often used for entrances and exits by the cast, as well as festive lighting designs on the ceiling above the stage and front audience.
Film clips are projected on large screens that double as scenery and fly on and offstage, creating a multi-dimensional environment courtesy of video design by Aaron Rhyne. During and between clips, actors stand beside and below the screens, mimicking the action, often with more than one scene taking place at the same time. The dialogue that you hear is from the movie clips, but music from the soundtrack is live, sung by the stage cast and played by a 15-piece orchestra, many of whom appear playing instruments onstage or in the audience along with the cast to enhance the immersive nature of the film with live action scenes.
Returning from the 2018 production are Rex Smith (Billy Mack), Carrie Manolakos (Natalie), Doug Kreeger (Harry), Tomasina Abate (Karen), Carson Higgins (Ensemble, male understudy), and the multi-dimensional Emily Lopez (Ensemble, female understudy). New this year to the lineup of outstanding performers are Rogelio Douglas Jr. (Peter), Declan Bennett (Jamie), Chris Mann in for Jon Robert Hall (Daniel) on the night I attended, James Byous (Mark), Ruby Lewis (Juliet/Mia), Gabriela Carrillo (Aurelia), singer/songwriter/actress Aubrie Sellers (Sarah), Levi Smith (Sam), young singer/actress Nayah Damasen (Joanna), John Battagliese (David), and accomplished violinist Molly Rogers (Judy).There are so many wonderful moments in the show, it is difficult to select which ones to talk about in this review. Of course, Rex Smith is a riot as the older rocker Billy Mack, especially when he keeps his promise of how he will appear at Christmas if his record reaches #1, which of course it does. Rock on Rex and Billy Mack!
All of the developing love stories are depicted with reverence to the movie and overwhelming enthusiasm by each actor in the show, especially since many are required to run up and down stairs onstage and in the audience very frequently. The two younger actors in the show are marvelous singers as well, highlighted during their solos "Puppy Love" by Levi Smith as Sam and Nayah Damasen who belts out "Underneath the Tree" as Joanna.
The entire ensemble is a joy to behold during their large-scale numbers as the many characters walk in, join in, and then move on to allow for the next to celebrate the wonder of being in love. These songs include "All You Need Is Love," "Jump (For My Love)," "Both Sides Now," God Only Knows," "Love Actually," and "Christmas is All Around." Each scene is a festival of excellent characterizations, extraordinary lighting effects and costumes, brilliant and fast-paced direction and choreography, and the joy of great music that perfectly expresses the mood and themes of the movie and jukebox musical LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE. No doubt this suburb holiday musical will be making its return to The Wallis each December!
For those unfamiliar with the movie, arrive early enough to study the character guide in the program to familiarize yourself with the intertwining relationships, smartly featuring photos of the actors appearing onstage in this brilliant and totally creative musical production. And then sit back and enjoy realizing that love actually is always around us!LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE continues in the Bram Goldsmith Theater at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, daily through December 29, 2019. Tickets are $39-$125, available at (310) 746-4000 or at TheWallis.org/Love where a complete daily performance schedule is available. This production contains adult content and brief nudity, recommended for ages 13+. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
Photo credit: Kevin Parry