Review Round-up: Love Story Moves to Duchess
Featuring music by Howard Goodall (The Hired Man, Days of Hope, Two Cities), a book by Stephen Clark (The Far Pavilions) and lyrics by Clark and Goodall, the production premiered at the Chichester Minerva theatre in the summer.
It transfers with original cast members Emma Williams (Jenny) and Michael Xavier (Oliver) and Peter Polycarpou, and is directed by Birmingham Rep artistic director Rachel Kavanaugh, who helmed The Music Man at Chichester in 2008.
The musical is presented in London by Adam Spiegel, Stephen Waley-Cohen and, in his producing debut, Michael Ball, who was last on the West End stage himself in Hairspray, for which he received the Whatsonstage.com and Olivier Awards for Best Actor in a Musical.
As in Chichester back in June, Love Story provoked mixed emotions among the critics...
"Should I feel bad about not sobbing my heart out at Howard Goodall’s elegant musical version – to book and lyrics by Stephen Clark – of Erich Segal’s Love Story? Several people around me were, hopefully for the right reasons. It’s certainly a hammer blow when Emma Williams' Jenny gets her death sentence, even if you know that it’s coming … Goodall’s music, though, is always interesting, often beautiful, especially at the moment when Jenny (the truly scrumptious Williams is maturing impressively beyond Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as both actress and singer) plays a version of the Oscar-winning theme tune against which a delicately haunting item is sung in choral descant … RSC big guy Richard Cordery and Jan Hartley are now playing Oliver’s parents with totally understandable stoicism: the real “love story” between father and son feels far too sketchy, and Cordery tries to compensate with a long, lingering hand on boy’s shoulder at the end. Oliver’s rebelliousness has seemed trite and pathetic. He never deserved Jenny in the first place.”
“First things first: no, I didn’t cry, though several people around me were reaching for their tissues. But then Erich Segal’s weepie has tended to divide opinion, from when the book and film conquered the world in 1970 or when it became a musical that conquered Chichester this year … Rachel Kavanaugh’s production of this musical by Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark is rarely less than elegant … At 100 minutes straight through, the show moves with an efficiency that’s both its strength and its limitation … She’s poor, musical, calls her dad Phil. He’s rich, sporty, calls his dad Sir. They sing us their emotions, but they also use the songs to narrate their story. They describe their love as much as they depict it. We are being force-fed emotion: neither an unpleasant feeling nor a wholly satisfying one … Goodall reprises his strongest themes to lend this chamber-musical an intimate air. The cast of 12 sing beautifully … No, I didn’t blub, and yes, I found some of it mawkish. But I was never bored.”
“Presented earlier this year at Chichester, Love Story is the first West End show in more than two decades from versatile composer Howard Goodall … Where Segal’s original was mawkish, this interpretation is less saccharine, even if still very much a weepie. Stephen Clark’s book is mostly tactful and restrained, with an odd dash of tangy humour, as in a clever, energetic ode to pasta. The performances are strong. Oliver is not easy to like but Michael Xavier imbues the role with feeling. As Jenny, Emma Williams can appear desperately vulnerable yet also conveys teasing wit. Of the supporting cast, Peter Polycarpou makes the richest impression, delightful as Jenny’s demonstrative father … However, given its subject matter, Rachel Kavanaugh’s production seems chaste. It could do with more emotional punch … The result is a polished show that is pleasing, sometimes affecting, but never truly captivating.”
"Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark's new tuner turns out to be a model of restraint. Both the material and Rachel Kavanaugh's skilled production are as tasteful as the elegantly dressed band of piano, guitar, double-bass and string quartet who are onstage throughout. Sadly, however, it proves possible to drown in good taste … although Goodall's chamber-sized score is neatly threaded in and out of Stephen Clark's book scenes, it feels more illustrative than dynamic. Structurally, Goodall's scrupulously well-harmonized phrases wind up feeling on a par with the repetitive, downward cycles of phrasing of Michel Legrand's music … Elsewhere, too many of the lyrics feel distinctly contrived … The crucial elements missing are telling detail and the messiness of relationships, not least in death. Yet the tear-stained faces at the end of the press matinee suggest that the combination of abiding sentimentality, economic scale and, of course, a world-famous title should ensure a future for the show in regional and amateur companies.”Charles Spencer
"One show that has transferred, despite my giving it a pretty good drubbing when it opened in Chichester, is the stage musical version of Love Story. Even I am prepared to admit that Rachel Kavanaugh’s stylish production is superior to the soppy film, and Howard Goodall’s music is both haunting and tuneful. Meanwhile Stephen Clark’s book and lyrics boast moments of wit amid the maudlin slush and Emma Williams has great charm as the doomed Jenny. If you like the movie then you will probably love this. But art, even popular entertainment, should aspire to something more than getting audiences to sob into their Kleenexes.”