Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s greatest hits comprise several dozen of the
most memorable songs of the 1960s. Beginning before the British invasion and
continuing through their 1968 Broadway smash Promises, Promises, Bacharach
and David wrote some of the most timeless hits of the decade.  Bacharach’s
melodies and rhythms were complex but accessible and David’s lyrics told stories
that listeners could easily identify with.

It’s that combination of distinctive melody and universal storytelling, combined
with a top notch cast, skillful direction/choreography, a sensational band, and
delicious multihued designs that make the brand new jukebox musical Love
Sweet Love such a treat. 

Though Bacharach wrote the unforgettable tunes which have made him a
karaoke staple, it’s David’s “story-song” lyrics that made it possible for Love
Sweet Love’s book writer C. Ben Wolfe to string together 31 of them and tell four
separate stories with scarcely a line of spoken dialog.  Unlike Mamma Mia (built
around the songs of ABBA) and the Elvis jukebox musical All Shook Up, two shows
I happen to love but which have garnered their share of criticism for their
“contrived” books, Love Sweet Love is content to let the songs tell the story.

At curtain up, we meet our four heroines, spotlight on each, as they sing “What
the World Needs Now.”  (Guess where the show’s title came from.) In her pink
bedroom is Chris, seated in a wheelchair is Gwen, at a café table typing on her
laptop is Amy, and sitting in her beauty shop is Katherine.

Chris has a philandering husband, Mike, whom she’s all too willing to forgive
whenever he comes begging for a second chance. Gwen has survived a car
accident which killed her physician husband, but despairs of finding love again,
wheelchair bound as she is.  Amy hopes to find a guy on an Internet dating site. 
Katherine is the kind of girl who keeps getting involved with the wrong man, e.g.

A Bacharach/David classic introduces each of them to us.

As Chris and Mike get ready to greet a new day: “The moment I wake up,
before I put on my makeup, I say a little prayer for you.” As Amy sits in café Bean
Me Up: “Oh, how can I forget you when there is always something there to
remind me.”  As Katherine toils at salon Clip Me, Kate: “Now that we’re through,
I just don’t know what to do with myself.” Meanwhile, cheater Mike is joined by
his co-workers at CBW Films in singing: “Promise her anything she’s dreaming of. 
Promise her anything.’ And finally Gwen, in front of a newspaper headline
describing the car crash that left her widowed and disabled, sings about “One
less bell to answer. One less egg to fry. One less man to pick up after.”

What would a Bacharach/David song be without its backup singers, and here
Wolfe and director/choreographer extraordinaire Sha Newman have come up
with numerous ways to integrate them into Love Sweet Love’s stories. Cleverest
of all are the two young women dressed just like Chris who pop out of her closet
and dresser whenever Chris sings in her bedroom. Similarly, Katherine’s beauty
shop client and co-worker back her up by singing into their hairdryers and Mike’s
office coworkers do backup for Mike. More backup is provided by the coffee
drinkers at Bean Me Up and the singles in search of love at the appropriately
named singles’ bar LOVE.

It’s amazing how easily Hal David’s lyrics take the place of a traditional book. 
When Katherine realizes that she’s just a one night stand to married Mike: “Go
while the going is good. Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing that
anyone can learn.”   As the perfect flirt song for Mike: “What’s new pussycat?”  
Sung by both betrayed wife and betrayed girlfriend to S.O.B. Mike: “If you see me
walking down the street, and I start to cry, each time we meet, walk on by.”
And the lyrics of Alfie take on special meaning when Gwen sings them to
snapshots of her late husband, presumably named Alfie. “What’s it all about,
Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?”

The cast of Love Sweet Love is a stellar one, beginning with Dawnn Lewis as
Gwen, in a 180 degree turnaround from her Las Vegas chanteuse in Sister Act. 
Wow, can this woman sing, as can the cute and sexy blonde Kara Shaw (one of
the Marvelous Wunderstudies) as Katherine. Petite Alaine Kashian is a charming
Amy, delightfully mismatched with equally cute but Tommy Tune sized (i.e. 6’6”
and skinny) Matthew Patrick Davis as the dorky Norman (who can’t even put on
a jacket in public without getting caught up in the sleeves.)  Then there’s the
sensational Kristen Howe as Chris, who’s got the kind of signature voice so right
for Bacharach songs. The same can be said for Staci M. Wilson, a wow of a singer
in the supporting role of Darla. Keith A. Bearden and Eugene Barry-Hill show off
their vocal talents as Mike and as LOVE’s bartender, and hunky Daniel Lujan as
Julio is the perfect Latin lover with the voice of another Julio (Iglesias). The rest of
the cast is made up of the best of our local triple-threats: Gail Bianchi, Jessica
Dorman, Michael Dotson, dance captain Rod Kellum, Mercy Malick, Samantha
Mills, and George Pellegrino.

Director/Choreographer Sha Newman dances aren’t as “Wow!” inspiring as
those she designed for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but the material doesn’t
lend itself to huge stage-filling production numbers.  Love Sweet Love’s dances
are nicely tailored to the songs, She Likes Basketball being a particular highlight,
as Norman and his coworkers stage a basketball game in their office, a
convenient waste paper basket held high to catch Norman’s perfectly aimed
ball.  As director, Newman has done an especially fine job of seeing to it that the
women’s stories are easy to follow, and that her performers become real people
even without the aid of dialog.

Lloyd Cooper gets highest marks for his musical direction of the show’s entirely
sufficient 7-piece band and for his orchestrations and arrangements of
Bacharach’s melodies, which maintain the integrity of the originals, but give
them an added Broadway zing. Bradley Kaye’s Valentine red and bubble gum
pink sets are simple but effective.  Thomas G. Marquez has filled the stage with a
bevy of colorful costumes. Steven Young’s lighting adds to the romantic and
playful mood, and Mark Cowburn’s sound design is likewise first rate.

Though Valentine’s Day is several months away, I can’t think of a better treat for
lovers than Love Sweet Love. The show plays only through Sunday, so
Bacharach/David lovers are advised to catch it before it heads off on tour.

Fred Kavli Theatre, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd.,  Thousand Oaks.

–Steven Stanley
December 4, 2007
                                                                     Photos: Mark Gluckman

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