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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Love Story, The Musical and
Pasek and Paul's Edges

Love Story
Alexandra Silber and Will Reynolds
Photo by Mark Garvin
In the closing scene of the Walnut Street Theatre's Love Story, The Musical, I heard the couple sitting behind me sobbing. I didn't cry, but in retrospect, this musical gave me a lot to weep about—mainly the waste of so much talent on such a mediocre show.

Love Story is lovely to look at—it's got an elegant set by Peter McKintosh, romantic lighting by Shon Causer, and two good-looking, appealing stars in Will Reynolds and Alexandra Silber. But this adaptation of Erich Segal's simplistic, nuance-free 1970 novel about a rich boy who falls for a poor, saintly girl doesn't add any freshness to a romance that was already clichéd forty-two years ago. And the musicalization by Stephen Clark (book and lyrics) and Howard Goodall (music and additional lyrics), now making its American premiere after successful engagements in England, adds little stimulation.

Goodall's music is tastefully arranged for a small chamber ensemble (piano, guitar, contrabass, and string quartet), and while there are some nice melodies, most of the music is too repetitive to be interesting. Clark's book uses large chunks of dialogue from Segal's book and screenplay unchanged (Segal, who died in 2010, is credited as the playwright in the Playbill). And Clark's lyrics are filled with trite, predictable, and meaningless rhymes ("Just five years old/My heart was sold," "I thought before/I knew the score," "When you're always broke/It's hard to see the joke"). The songwriters also miss a number of chances to tell the story through song, notably in a lengthy, music-free scene in which Oliver (Reynolds) brings Jenny (Silber) to his parents' house for dinner. (Paul L. Nolan, the fine actor who plays Oliver's snobby father, never gets an opportunity to sing, even though the father is one of only four major characters.) There are also missed chances for underscoring throughout the show; in one scene, after Oliver and Jenny have had their only major spat, Jenny sobs for about a minute while the string players sit a few feet behind her, fully lit, just staring at her. (The musicians really should be in shadows for most of the show.)

For the most part, the music doesn't soar, and the lyrics don't either. Curiously, the best song is the one which deviates the furthest from the source material: "Nocturnes," a pretty ballad in which Jenny envisions the lives of her future children. (Segal's novel is narrated by Oliver, so the decision to let us hear what's in Jenny's heart is a good one.)

Reynolds and Silber are likable performers with excellent voices, and Charles Pistone radiates warmth as Jenny's affectionate father. Director Annabel Bolton creates a nice sense of camaraderie between the three, and her staging is cool and efficient. But the story is still sappy, manipulative and dull, the characters are one-dimensional, and the score never gives Oliver and Jenny the depth they need.

Love Story, The Musical runs through October 21, 2012, at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $10 – $95, with premium tickets available for $175, and are available online at www.walnutstreettheatre.org or www.ticketmaster.com, or by phone (800) 982-2787.


If Love Story's dreary songwriting makes you worried about the state of the modern musical, the team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are just the cure you need. Earlier this summer, their moving adaptation of the movie Dogfight received an excellent production off-Broadway, and they'll be making their Broadway debut in November with another movie adaptation, A Christmas Story. And now, as part of the 2012 Philadelphia Live Arts and Philly Fringe, their revue Pasek and Paul's Edges is receiving a very nice production.

While there's no plot to Edges, most of the songs deal generally with the theme of young people looking for self-fulfillment. "I'm afraid to be who I am/Who I want to become," the four-member ensemble sings in the opening song; later, in the song "Lying There," a woman finds that, instead of finding comfort as she gazes at her sleeping lover, her "restlessness just grows" as she thinks of the compromises she's had to make. In "Part of a Painting," a man journeys to Greece in search of the satisfaction he's always been missing. In "I've Gotta Run," a woman describes how she's always run away from intimacy. And in "One Reason," a man tells of how he was abandoned by his father, then wonders "Why am I turning out just like you?"

The lyrics are sophisticated in their rhymes and in their point of view, and the music is propulsive—even the ballads feel as if they're stuffed with energy and ideas waiting to burst out. Not everything works, though; the comedy songs run out of ideas too quickly. And "Caitlyn & Haley," about an adolescent girl warring with her younger sister, aims too high; the lyrics describe the characters vividly, but the music is too complicated and mature for the characters.

Director Ben Smallen's no-fuss production (four chairs, three black walls) lets the actors' strong personalities fill the room. The actors are Will Connell, Chris McGinniss, Amanda Curry and Jennie Knackstedt. McGinniss' sturdy tenor is the strongest voice, but the others are good too, although Curry's soprano is sometimes drowned out by the keyboard and drums.

Edges is no classic; it has a few substandard songs, and its focus on young people's aspirations is a little sketchy. (It sometimes seems like a grad school version of the superior Closer Than Ever.) But, unlike the songs in Love Story, I look forward to hearing these songs again.

Pasek and Paul's Edges is presented by A&B Productions and Parallax Theatre Company and runs through September 21, 2012, at the 2nd Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $15 and are available at www.livearts-fringe.org.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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