Chicago Theatre Review
Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
Love Story, the Musical
Sometimes it seems as if every successful movie that has ever been enjoyed on the silver screen has, is or will soon be adapted into a stage musical. It feels like all the writers of original theatrical libretti have either given up, left town or just decided to take the easy way out. There’s nothing (or very little) that’s new these days and it’s become so disappointing. If turning a movie into a musical doesn’t bring something new to the story, why bother?
Erich Segal’s best-selling romance novel, coincidentally released exactly 44 years to the date of Jedlicka’s opening night, became a much-loved film, as well. In fact, it was the highest grossing film of 1970 and spawned a film genre called the “chick flick.” For baby boomers the story is nostalgic; for modern audiences the story may be maudlin and its most quoted line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” is often mocked today.
That being said, this musical, with a book and lyrics by Stephen Clark and a lovely score by Howard Goodall is actually a fine chamber piece. True, a story that opens with the leading lady’s funeral tends to be a downer, setting a mournful tone from which there’s nowhere else to go. The melodies, except for the second act opening number, “Pasta,” all sound very similar. The tempos either are slow or slower, the lyrics either heartfelt or downright sad, and the audience knows how it’s all going to end.
However, given all that, Jedlicka’s decision to open their production of this 2010 British import on Valentine’s Day makes sense and its short run capitalizes on February’s month of love. But even more sensible is giving Melanie Lamoureux, Jedlicka’s Managing Director of Performing Arts, the opportunity to direct this production. Ms. Lamoureux is no novice when it comes to directing and one hopes she’ll be offered more opportunities in the future. She brings sophistication and class to a musical that could’ve been simply trite. But Ms. Lamoureux has assembled nine very talented actor/singers and a skilled keyboard and string ensemble to provide accompaniment. Her leading actors are believable as Jenny and Oliver, have great chemistry and seem to really care about each other, thanks to her expert direction.
Demonstrating again that less can be more, Michael Nedza’s simple, elegant white-panel and black drape setting works perfectly for this piece. Dominated only by a baby grand piano, a few simple props come and go as needed, but the focus always remains on the actors. Lighting, however, is sometimes erratic; one actor may be brightly lit in a scene while another stands in shadow. The use of spotlights to illuminate is unfortunately distracting, as well.
The lovely Carisa Gonzalez-Sambolin is the best reason to see this production. As Jenny, the role created on film by Ali McGraw, she’s magical. Not only can she sing beautifully, her character is natural and effortless and, like Jenny, she’s also a skilled pianist. In scenes with Phil, her Italian father, Ms. Sambolin has an acting partner with whom to share her realistic style. Fairing almost as well, Maxwell DeTogne brings a beautiful, well-trained voice to Oliver, the role that made Ryan O’Neal a star. His scenes with Ms. Sambolin are mostly believable and touching, as are his moments with Elliot Fredland and Judy Knudtson as Oliver’s affluent parents. Unfortunately, there are times when Mr. DeTogne “acts” rather than letting himself simply be Oliver in the moment, but it’s then that Ms. Sambolin helps him snap out of it.
Audiences looking to wallow in sweet sorrow or delight in the power of love will find the perfect entertainment playing in Cicero. If Erich Segal’s book or its film adaptation is a guilty pleasure or and unknown entity, this chamber musical might just be the thing to warm a cold February night.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 14-March 1 by Jedlicka Performing Arts Center, 3801 S. Central Ave., Cicero, IL.
Tickets are available by calling 708-656-1800 or by going their website at www.jpactheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.