The moral of This Could Be Love, a winsome little Canadian New York Musical Theatre Festival offering at the Sage Theatre, might well be, "If you try to take love by the throat, you're liable to choke." This show, written by Brock Simpson, never chokes, though it does gasp for air before finally catching its breath - and our hearts.
Its story is a time-tested - and time-twisted - one about a man, He (Graham Rowat), and a woman, She (Krista Sutton), who get married and then realize they have to get to know each other. They are, of course, the expected polar opposites: He's a straitlaced, Type-A jingle writer with an interest in learning the capitals of countries he'll never visit; she's an ADD, seat-of-her-pants temp worker who's not one for settling down.
Both have been burned by life and love when they meet after being stood up by their respective dates, and a brief discussion about the difficulties of modern romance convinces them to "decide" to fall in love. It's not too difficult for them to marry and then have sex. But in the morning light, when it's time for that love thing, maybe that's not quite so easy after all.
Simpson has written a sweet satire on the overcomplication of contemporary relationships, if one that offers little dramatic invention. (If the pieces were in the expected order, this would be seen as the traditional love story it is.) Most of the joys on offer are tiny, but gleaming: Director Dennis Garnhum's use of printed T-shirts to represent various states of dress (from "Power Suit" to "Naked"); or the development of the central love theme, beginning as six isolated notes that evolve into longer strains both caressing and cruel, finding their final form in a declaration of love as delightful as promised by the hype preceding it.
Plus, how can you not love Simpson's audacity at identifying a song in the program as "Brisco Titanium Stormcaps"? That's a rare moment of unpredictability for the score, which, like the book (which is joke-laden, but never leaden), charts expected courses, if in nice enough ways. The dense, contrapuntal "Bios," for the inevitable getting-to-know-you scene, is a conspicuously confusing high point; the finale, "Say You'll Be Mine," and She's I-made-a-mistake song, the haunting "Always Almost," linger in both the ear and heart. The rest of the score is pleasant, though its old-fashioned inclinations crave more melody - and less of the jagged, disjointed tunes so favored by today's composers - than Simpson provides.
Regardless, there's no lack of wit and even surprise - how many musicals climax in Helsinki? And Rowat and Sutton (who originated her role in Canada in 2003) are a fine pair, excellent singers who know how to ground their comedy and let their seriousness drift into the clouds occasionally. They chart the full range of relationship experiences with both giddy excitement and common sense and, most importantly, make you want this unusual union to find its footing.
In reality, it probably wouldn't: Love at first sight - to say nothing of marriage at first glance - is no longer in vogue (assuming it ever was). But the choice of what to pursue, when, and how is one that's captivated theatregoers in many guises, and This Could Be Love is an enjoyable addition to the canon. It never surpasses the more openly heartfelt and timeless The Fantasticks, which (the recently opened revival reminds us) is similar in style and subject matter to this, but Simpson's compact valentine is a charming counterpoint for telling how we live - and love - today.
This Could Be Love