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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Aspects of Love
Walnut Street Theatre

Also see Tim's review of Sylvia

Aspects of Love
Jennifer Hope Wills and Danielle G. Herbert
At the Walnut Street Theatre through October 23, you can catch a good production of a lousy show, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love. It's a musical that works hard to create a romantic mood, but too often lapses into unintentional comedy. But here it is buoyed by skillful performances and excellent production values.

Based on a novel by David Garnett, Aspects of Love tells the story of a fledgling actress in postwar France who has a fling with a devoted young fan, only to end up as part of a romantic roundelay that includes the boy's uncle and the uncle's mistress. Passions run hot and heavy, hearts get broken, angry words are uttered, guns are fired, and beautiful women keep stripping down to their lingerie. What's not to like?

Well, for starters, there's Lloyd Webber's score, brimming with pretty tunes repeated until they become annoying, and orchestrated so that you're never more than a few minutes away from being pummeled by a bombastic crescendo. Then there are the lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart, full of generic sentiments that reveal little about the characters (titles like "Love Changes Everything" and "Seeing is Believing" tell you all you need to know about their sophistication). The show is almost completely sung-through, which means that dialogue is sung, resulting in lyrics that often fit the music awkwardly.

Then there's the plot, which starts promisingly only to devolve into more and more ridiculous melodrama. Sometime around the middle of act one, when Alex, our young hero, pulled out a pistol and shot his lover in the arm to punish her for sleeping with his uncle, the opening night audience could hold its laughter in no longer. And in act two, when the increasingly creepy Alex revealed his desire to sleep with his fifteen-year-old cousin, groans could be heard throughout the crowd. (Apparently, Alex had run out of adult women to screw.)

This is a show that practically screams, "Look how daring we are! We've got people sleeping around! And lesbians! And a threesome!" But the self-conscious debauchery doesn't mesh with the stately dignity of Lloyd Webber's music. And because the characters are so superficial—there's little dramatic conflict aside from lovers' spats—it's hard to care about what happens to them.

Still, Aspects of Love is one of the better looking productions the Walnut has done in some time. John Farrell's scenic design uses projections, turntables, and diaphanous curtains to create an elegant look, and the transitions are handled swiftly.

And director Bruce Lumpkin gets strong work from his golden-voiced ensemble. Jennifer Hope Wills gives charm and depth to the leading role of Rose, and she's especially impressive on her powerful final solo, "Anything But Lonely." Paul Schoeffler is vigorous and good-humored as the amorous uncle, and Danielle G. Herbert is suitably sultry as his mistress. Charles Hagerty sings superbly as Alex, but his acting is wanting; his expression fails to change when big revelations occur, which only makes Alex seem more shallow. Jenna Brooke Scannelli does a fine job as cousin Jenny, as does Claire Norden, who played Young Jenny on opening night (she alternates with Arin Edelstein in the role).

Aspects of Love boasts some lovely Andrew Lloyd Webber melodies, some handsome settings, and a good-looking cast. But there's an ugliness to the characters, and a halfhearted sleaziness in its attitude, which all that beauty just can't hide.

Aspects of Love runs through October 23, 2011, at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. Ticket prices range from $10 to $95, with premium tickets available. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 800-982-2787, online at www.walnutstreettheatre.org or www.ticketmaster.com, or by visiting the box office.

Aspects of Love
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black & Charles Hart
Based on the novel by David Garnett
Directed by Bruce Lumpkin
Music and Vocal Director ... Douglass G. Lutz
Set Designer ... John Farrell
Costume Designer ... Colleen Grady
Lighting Designer ... Jack Jacobs
Sound Designer ... David Temby
Stage Managers ... Lori Aghazarian, Debi Marcucci

Cast:
Rose Vibert Jennifer Hope Wills
Alex Dillingham Charles Hagerty
George Dillingham Paul Schoeffler
Giulietta Trapani Danielle G. Herbert
Marcel Richard Laurent Giroux
Jenny Dillingham Jenna Brooke Scannelli
Elizabeth Denise Whelan
Hugo LeMeunier Denis Lambert
Jerome Peter Schmitz
Young Jenny Arin Edelstein/Claire Norden
Ensemble: Michael Brian Dunn, Daniel Lynn Evans, Liz Filios, Marissa K. Hines, Denis Lambert, Shaun Parry, Chad Parsons, Rebecca Robbins, Kerri Rose, Peter Schmitz, Denise Whelan, Dana Winkle


Photo: Mark Garvin


-- Tim Dunleavy



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