You know the plot: Midwestern innocent arrives in L.A. with suitcases and a dream, ending up as a lowly assistant to a Hollywood big shot; there's a chance meeting with the biggest star in Hollywood; romance ensues; career complications prevent the star from acknowledging the true object of his affection; and so on. You've seen it dozens of times. But you probably haven't seen it where the innocent and the movie star are gay, but the movie star remains closeted (in a marriage of convenience) for the sake of his career.
This twist means the show actually has something to sayit's right there in the second act, a song called "Someone Goes First," when Chris (our protagonist) gently pleads with Justin (his movie star boyfriend) to be the first celebrity of his stature to come out. In "Someone Goes First," Justin Love makes its case for why it is still so important for major public figures to step forward about their orientation. And because Justin Love is otherwise just a great big fantasy of musical, the show has been carefully constructed to make this the easiest decision in the world. Sure, there are complications for our heroes on their way to happinessit wouldn't be theatre without thembut how the characters get from the starting blocks to Happily Ever After is a story told with enough charm and humor to keep you smiling throughout.
Tyler Ledon is Chris, the screenwriter wannabe who proclaims, upon arriving in Hollywood, that it smells "like oranges and hope." Ledon lets all of Chris's emotions play on his face; we can see his thoughts so clearly, his songs are almost superfluous. And this view into Chris's heart makes him irresistible when he tries so darned hard not to be starstruck upon first meeting Justin. Adam Huss's Justin, in contrast, is harder to read. At times, Huss makes Justin ("the hottest fucking actor alive," according to the lyrics) a decent guy. His "Give Me A Chance," at the end of act one, in which he tells Chris that, as an actor, he can be anyone Chris wants him to be, is full of playful charm. But at other times, Huss plays up the fact that being at the top of A-list puts Justin higher up in the food chain than, well, anyone, and Justin comes off as a bit of a jerk.
The scene stealer of the piece is Alet Taylor as Buck, the crazy, bitchy, neurotic publicist who takes on Chris as her assistant (and just happens to represent Justin). An over-the-top version of everything we hate about Hollywood players (book writers Patricia Cotter and David Elzer are at their very best here), Buck is hilarious, and Taylor lands every line.
Lori Scarlett's lyrics are a perfect match for the piecetongue-in-cheek and genuine at the same time. When, before meeting Justin, Chris comes home to discover his boyfriend is cheating on him, the now ex-boyfriend begs not to be thrown out, singing a heartfelt, "Even assholes like me need a place to stay." And an agency party number, "The Superficial," in which everyone is saying the exact opposite of what they're thinking, is a deliciously low-brow Hollywood response to "Putting it Together."
There are a few missteps. A second act number for the ex-boyfriend (who is, in fact, allowed to stay) seems unnecessary, and the comic staging on a lovey-dovey song doesn't really work for me. But these are truly minor. Overall, Justin Love doesn't aim to be much more than a love letter to Hollywood and love stories, and a brought-to-life wish that someday soon, everyone can have their own Hollywood love story. And at that, it surely succeeds.
Justin Love runs at the Celebration Theatre through November 18, 2012. For tickets and information, see www.celebrationtheatre.com.
David Elzer, Peter Schneider and Justin Rush Productions, LLC, in association with Celebration Theatre present Justin Love. Book by Patricia Cotter and David Elzer, Story by David Elzer and Bret Calder, Music by Lori Scarlett and David Manning, Lyrics by Lori Scarlett. Directed by Michael Matthews; Choreographed by Janet Roston; Music Direction by Gregory Nabours. John Ballinger, Orchestrator; Ryan Bergmann, Assistant Director; June Carryl, Assistant Director; Jackie Hinton, Assistant Choreographer; Marcedes Clanton, Stage Manager; Rebecca Eisenberg, Assistant Stage Manager; Michael Iran Leon, Dresser; Matthew Brian Denman, Technical Director; Stephen Gifford, Scenic Designer; Cricket S. Myers, Sound Designer; Michael O'Hara, Properties Designer; Naila Aladdin Sanders, Costume Designer; Tim Swiss, Lighting Designer; Jason H. Thompson, Projection Designer; Zack Lapinski, Associate Lighting Designer; Kaitlyn Pietras, Assistant Projection Designer; Michael C. Kricfalusi, Executive Director/Executive Producer; John Michael Beck, Artistic Director/Executive Producer; Michael Spellman, Associate Producer; Michael Donovan, CSA, Casting Director; David Elzer/DEMAND PR, Publicist; Ty Donaldson, Graphic Design; Michael O'Hara, Associate Managing Director/Production Manager.