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BWW Review: LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE Sparkles Like a Tree Full of Ornaments on Christmas Eve

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The holiday hit runs through December 31

BWW Review: LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE Sparkles Like a Tree Full of Ornaments on Christmas Eve
The cast of LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE

For the Record's juke box musical LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE has become a holiday tradition for Angelenos. The biggest hit in the Wallis' history contains the joy and melancholy of the season joined with a beloved Christmas film and an astonishing array of pop songs both old and new. It sparkles like a tree full of ornaments on Christmas Eve.

Returning for its third year (having skipped 2020 like the rest of the world), the show is better than ever as it combines scenes from the film intercut with actors on the stage acting out portions of the story and breaking into both thrilling and heartbreaking song and dance while the intertwining stories (Eight of them? Nine?) play out like a colorful London-based soap opera with the countdown to Christmas as their backdrop. It's an astonishing feat of multimedia with photos, film, performers, and the live orchestra playing both the score and the actors' songs.

Adapted and directed by Anderson Davis, LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE is even more emotionally satisfying than the 2003 romantic comedy drama it's based on. There's an immediacy to it when seen live especially with showstopping numbers like Judy Collins' "Both Sides Now" and Joni Mitchell's mournful "River," which snakes through the production like the titular body of water. The songbook includes tunes stretching from Bing Crosby's 1942 "White Christmas" to Paul Anka's 1959 teen ode "Puppy Love" through to the Beatles' 1967 "All You Need Is Love" and the Pointer Sisters' 1983 dance-pop jam "Jump (For My Love)" and Dido's 1999 "Here With Me" and right into the present with Kelly Clarkson's "Underneath the Tree." With vocal design by Tony Award nominee AnnMarie Milazzo and musical supervision and arrangements by Jesse Vargas, every number dazzles.

BWW Review: LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE Sparkles Like a Tree Full of Ornaments on Christmas Eve
Aaron Lazar as Jamie

For the Record has a sterling pedigree when it comes to shows such as these. Launched in 2010 in Los Feliz's dearly departed Rockwell with live, interactive dinner shows based on the oeuvres of directors like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Zemeckis, and Baz Luhrmann (truly the swooniest of them all), intersecting the stories from their various films with comedy, pathos, song, and dance, the team soon expanded to New York, Chicago and Montreal. So they had experience when they created Cinema For the Record with LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE, their first production, which makes it no surprise that it is a smash.

The scenic design by Emmy winner Matthew Steinbrenner is stunning. On the three-tier stage, the orchestra is on the recessed third level leaving the lower two to be used for movie screens and the actors, who also work their way into the audience. The two hour and 45-minute running time (with a 15-minute intermission) may seem bloated, but it's not. It perfectly captures each story, giving them time to breathe, which makes them surprisingly effective whether they end happily or not.

The actors are all well cast with Michael Thomas Grant as the British prime minister (The boyish Grant doesn't seem old enough to even hold that office.) and Rex Smith particular standouts. Smith, a '70s pop star, relishes his scenery chewing role, but you can also feel the energy from everyone in the show emanating from the stage. They're clearly thrilled to be back on stage just as audiences are thrilled to have them back.

LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE is the holiday gift you may not know you need. Unwrap it while you can. The show ends on New Year's Eve!

LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE is performed on the Bram Goldsmith stage at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills, through December 31. Tickets can be purchased by calling 310-746-4000 or going to TheWallis.org/Love.

All photos by Rob Latour


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