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For Lovers Only (Love Songs Nothing But Love Songs)

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Monica L. Patton, Kevin Vortmann, Ken Lundie, Trisha Rapier, Dominique Plaisant, and Glenn Seven Allen.
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

What could make a more romantic evening at the theatre than to hear nearly 90 classic love songs performed by an outstanding crooner-filled company in the most intimate of the New World Stages theaters? Judging by For Lovers Only, which Christopher Scott and Ken Lundie have created from a concept by Nancy Friday, the answer starts with: fewer than 90 classic love songs.

It doesn't take a world-class mathematician to determine that if you cram 80-plus songs into a show that runs under two hours (that's including an intermission) you won't have time to perform them complete or establish dramatic or emotional contexts for them. This basic point, however, eluded director-choreographer Scott and musical director Lundie, and their malfunctioning iPod shuffle of a revue makes it seem that they are on a two-man quest to make some of the world's greatest compositions sound as terrible as possible.

To slightly reduce the chaos, they've sort of organized things. There are several vaguely themed groupings of numbers: early 20th century ("An Old-Fashioned Love Song," "'S Wonderful," "All the Things You Are," and so on), movie hits ("Moon River," "Time After Time," "Misty"), and fantasy and magic ("You Do Something to Me," "Witchcraft," "Bewitched"). There's a "scene" set at a wedding, with the bride and groom using some hot songs to warm their cold feet before walking down the aisle. And the whole second act feels like a Cabaret Idol-style sing-off.

Because of the rapid-fire delivery, if you hear a song you're not especially fond of, you just have to wait half a minute for another to start. And you have no excess opportunities to question odder entries in the songstack ("Bali H'ai"? "The Cell Block Tango"?) But you're still not getting in any real way what the show purports to be giving you. Because of the songs' glancing treatments (I timed about 5.7 seconds of "Baby, It's Cold Outside") and Peter R. Feuchtwanger's nothingness-nightclub set, the entire evening is little more than a drive-by cheese-tasting.

At least the cast makes the most of what they're given. Glenn Seven Allen, Kevin Vortmann, Monica L. Patton, Dominique Plaisant, and Trisha Rapier are all talented, passionate singers and game participants in this hopeless enterprise. One wishes Scott had given them characters or throughlines to bolster their performances - the closest we get are the men trading off, apparently at random, between Patton and Plaisant (and once, as a joke, ending up in each other's arms), and Rapier's great unrequited love for Lundie at the piano. But even so, they're as nice-sounding and as entertaining as they can be with nothing to anchor their numbers.

They even briefly get the chance to conquer the unconquerable. Lundie and Scott have (accidentally?) slipped four of them longer solos that let them ease their burdens for a few of minutes each. Not all of the renditions are classics; Patton's "I Got Love" (from Purlie) does not supplant, or even supplement, Melba Moore's. But Allen's tearing into Jerry Herman's "Kiss Her Now," Plaisant's busting out some real Aretha Franklin fervor for "Do Right Woman," and Rapier's donning the dual mantel of Fanny Brice and Barbra Streisand with "My Man" are exactly the kinds of turns this show should celebrate.

It's hardly surprising that the audience responds loudest and longest to these: Who wouldn't prefer fewer moments of deep, personal connection to a broad-based but shallow survey of the heart? But jolting as these solos are, they can't prevent the rest of For Lovers Only from being more anesthetic than aphrodisiacal

For Lovers Only (Love Songs Nothing But Love Songs)
New World Stages / Stage 5, 340 West 50th Street Between 8th and 9th Avenues
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes with one intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge

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