Six simply marvelous performances and a couple dozen simply gorgeous songs are the best reasons to see Love Songs A Musical, Steven Cagan’s minimal-plot song cycle now getting its World Premiere by Chromolume Theatre at the Attic in a production that comes across more like a low-budget workshop than the fully-staged premiere Cagan’s work deserves and L.A. theatergoing regulars will likely be expecting.
Make no mistake, Cagan’s music is well worth hearing, particularly as sung by Jean Altadel, Eduardo Enrikez, Kurt Andrew Hansen, Jean Kauffman, Craig McEldowney, and Sara J. Stuckey, and the production worth checking out to see A Chorus Line legend Kay Cole’s latest directorial-choreographic assignment.
Still, there are problems from the get-go, beginning with a program that reveals far too little. Though it’s easy to figure out that Gaby (Altadel) and Jeremy (Enrikez) are a young couple about to be wed, it would help greatly if audiences knew (as the musical’s website reveals) that Gaby’s sister Sarah (Stuckey) and college poetry professor Ben (McEldowney) are longtime fiancés (not husband and wife), and if anyone in the audience deduced that Rose (Kauffman) and Roy (Hansen) are longtime unmarried lovers who (the website explains) “just enjoy themselves (and others!),” they are much sharper than I.
Director Cole and her company of actor-singers do make it clear that Jeremy is getting cold feet the day before the nuptials, that Sarah and Ben are having their own problems, and that Roy has set his roving eye on Sarah and Rose hers on Ben. Still, at about seventy-five minutes in length, Love Songs cries out for fifteen minutes of “book,” since as it stands now, too much ends up left up to the audience to guess. (There’s not even a list of songs—and who sings them—in the playbill.)
A legitimate production design would help as well, informing us whether we’re in Gaby’s room or Roy and Rose’s or at the wedding reception or elsewhere. What we get from scenic designer James Esposito are badly painted black walls and some black boxes in one of L.A. lowest-end theaters. (You can even see water pipes on the walls and forget air conditioning at The Attic on a warm summer night or hot matinee.) A. Lynn Downey’s bare minimum lighting design would be perfectly fine for a workshop, but it’s not what a World Premiere deserves. Darby Gray’s costumes are the production’s best design element, but even they could be nicer.
Still, despite these flaws, Love Songs is worth seeing.
To begin with, Cagan has what seems today to almost be passé—a real gift for melody. The soaring “Romance,” the poignant “Love Me,” the waltz-in-minor-chords “State Of The Union,” the heartbreaking “Alone,” the amusing tango “I’m Old,” the passionate “Carpe Diem,” the ironic “Without You,” the introspective “Silly Me,” and the Sondheimesque “Pitter-Patter” are just some of Cagan’s exquisite creations, and can be listened to here. Melodies return like old friends, and some songs get reprised, insuring that at least some of these Love Songs will stick with you even after you’ve left the theater.
As lyricist, Cagan definitely has a way with words, whether its Sarah entreating Ben to “Love Me” (“I implore and empower you, though my need may devour you.”) or Rose commenting dryly that “I’m Old” (“Take the kidneys I know so well. Here are the thighs I abhor. Take all of me.”) or Sarah’s rage-filled “Without You” (“I’m tired of the hypocrisy so spare me the philosophy. I’m weary of the snotty little kid in you.) or Gaby’s cliché-spoofing “State Of The Union” (“Butterflies are on the wing. Whippoorwills whip-whippooring. Stars twink-twinkling above.”)
And then there are the performances, including star turns by StageSceneLA favorites Altadel, absolutely radiant in the first role I’ve gotten to see her play since her Outstanding Lead Actress Scenie as Oklahoma’s Laurey, and Enrikez, following Chris in Miss Saigon with another stellar romantic leading man performance;
Then there’s Scenie-winning Breakthrough Actress Of The Year Stuckey, every bit as stunning vocally as she is at digging deep into Sarah’s pain and frustration, and Hansen, the Scenie-winning Sweeney Todd once again demonstrating the sexy swagger of a younger Clint Eastwood, if Clint could sing even an iota as well as Hansen.
Understudies Dana Shaw, Suzan Solomon, Michael Uribes, and Richard Van Slyke (all StageSceneLA favorites) will be stepping in at certain performances.
Musical director Stuart Elster elicits superb vocals and glorious harmonies from his cast. Orchestrator/arranger Doug Walter’s onstage piano accompaniment is so rich and lush, you almost forget you’re not hearing the full orchestrations hyperlinked above and here.
Chad Parker is stage manager.
With so much going for it, it’s a shame that Love Songs A Musical isn’t getting the high-end (or even mid-end) production it deserves. Still, you won’t hear more beautiful songs or see performers any more talented than those onstage at the Attic, reason enough to give these Love Songs a listen and this production a try.
Chromolume Theatre at the Attic. 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.
June 22, 2013
Photos: Michael Lamont