Theatre Review: Love Story @ the Duchess Theatre

By Zoe Craig Last edited 88 months ago
Theatre Review: Love Story @ the Duchess Theatre

Love Story certainly isn't for everyone.

We saw this new British musical last night, unencumbered by any prior experience of Erich Segal's 1970 novel with the same name, or the following hit film.

For us, Love Story is (and, having read the film's not much cop, will remain) a classy chamber musical, full of gorgeous melodies, featuring a sassy young lead, and a heart-breaking conclusion. But we understand that for some, sentimental musicals about love and death will leave you and your bargepole equally unmoved. That's OK - you can stop reading now.

For those still with us, we can tell you Love Story opens with a funeral. So you can't cry spoiler when we tell you life is cut short for Jenny Cavilleri (Emma Williams), the clever-but-poor piano playing Radcliff scholar. The show then moves into flashback, and we see a younger Jenny falling for a rich, preppy Harvard hockey player, Oliver Barrett IV (played by Michael Xavier).

Despite rows with both their fathers (Peter Polycarpou is excellent as Jenny's explosive, gesturing deli-owner dad), their love blossoms into marriage, and a desire for kids. Then, at 90 minutes in to the 110-minute show, Jenny is suddenly ill, and those of an emotional bent in the audience are in tears.

(If your complaint is that Jenny and Oliver fall in love quickly, then at least she dies quickly too. And if you're in the audience and not of an emotional bent, then what exactly are you doing there?)

What makes this little, domestic musical satisfying are the performances, and the melodies. Williams gives Jenny just the right amount of bold spirit and humour; her singing voice is a complete pleasure; that she can act through these pretty songs is the icing on the cake. As Oliver, Xavier has less character to play with, but possesses another gorgeous voice, and can certainly do grief when he needs to.

Two stand-out songs from the talented British writing team Howard Goodall (music) and Stephen Clark (lyrics) are the witty paean to pasta with a hint of Gilbert and Sullivan (while they cook! on stage! with real heat! and smelly ingredients!), and Jenny's lovely "I Will Play My Kids Nocturnes." A completely unobtrusive on-stage band of piano and strings provide all the accompaniment necessary; the subtle, slick staging by Peter McKintosh echoes the polished performances and classy song writing.

Yes, it's slushy. Yes, it's sentimental. Yes, the plot's stick-thin. But the talent on stage carries this love story for us. And if you like that kind of thing, we reckon it will for you too. Bring tissues.

Love Story plays at the Duchess Theatre until 30 April. Visit www.lovestoryonstage.com or call 0844 412 4659 for more information. It's also part of Get Into London Theatre, so you can get cheap seats if you want to go in Jan or Feb.

Image by Manuel Harlan shows Emma Williams (Jenny) and Michael Xavier (Oliver)

Last Updated 08 December 2010