Frothy Broadway musical comedy romps don’t get any frothier than the frothy Broadway musical comedy romp Triumph Of Love, a fact made amply clear last night by Musical Theatre Guild’s one-performance-only concert staged reading of the 1997 gem.
Based on Pierre de Marivaux’s 1732 Le Triomphe De L’Amour, Triumph Of Love transports us back in time to ancient Sparta as seen through early 18th-century eyes, meaning plenty of knee-length waistcoats and breeches for the men … and for most of the women as well, James Magruder’s book following Marivaux’s original in having Spartan princess Léonide and her servant Corine don male attire in the grand Shakespearean tradition of cross-dressing for love.
If Léonide (Shannon Warne) and Corine (Misty Cotton) do drag initially as a way of entering the private garden frequented by the anonymous young man with whom Her Royal Highness has fallen head over heels, the distaff duo soon discover that the young man, aka Agis (Jeffrey Scott Parsons), is in fact the rightful heir to the Spartan throne—long story here—who has vowed to kill the woman who has usurped his crown.
In actual fact it was Léonide’s uncle who did the usurping, part of the aforementioned long story, but no matter. What counts is that before you can say Drag Race, Léonide has assumed three separate identities, one male (Phocion) and two female (Cécile and Aspasie), each of them pursued by an ardent suitor, Aspasie by philosopher Hermocrates (Kevin Symons), in whose house Agis dwells, Phocion by Hermocrates’ sister Hesione (Eileen Barnett), and Cécile by Agis.
Adding to the confusion and merriment are Hermocrates’ servant, the appropriately named Harlequin (Scott Harlan), and his gravelly-voiced gardener Dimas (Stan Chandler), the septet adding up to one of the smallest Broadway musical casts of the 1990s and the musical, at a mere 85 performances, to one of the decade’s shorter runs.
It probably didn’t help ticket sales that the musical’s ponderous title gave no hint either of its frothiness or of Magruder’s book’s blend of romance and corn in equal measure.
Perhaps, too, had audiences had more pre-show exposure to the gorgeous melodies to which Jeffrey Stock set Susan Birkenhead’s deft lyrics, a differently titled Triumph Of Love might have lasted longer, and garnered more than a single Tony nomination (for Betty Buckley’s Hesione).
As is, the musical’s short run made it ripe for Musical Theatre Guild plucking.
Directed and choreographed with consummate flair and imagination by Kirsten Chandler, yesterday’s Triumph Of Love offered its cast some of their most delicious roles ever.
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect Léonide (or Phocion or Cécile or Aspasie) than the feisty and fabulous Warne, nor a more irresistible leading man than the eternally boyish Parsons, the dynamic duo having us rooting for love to triumph from their first meeting.
Symons and Barnett shone equally brightly as the young lovers’ love-befuddled elders, Cotton proved herself a comedienne par excellence as Corine, and Chandler and Harlan stole scenes right and left as Corine’s fellow “henchmen,” one of those “stolen” scenes being the show-stopping “Henchmen Are Forgotten.”
Warne’s soaring vocals made “Anything” every bit the ear candy that was Parsons’ thrilling “Issue In Question” as well as their duetted “The Bond That Can’t Be Broken.” Cotton got the joint a-jumpin’ with the jazzy “Mr. Right,” while Barnett and Symon’s wry and witty “The Tree” and Barnett’s powerful “Serenity’ were equally applause-worthy.
In addition to A. Jeffrey Schoenberg of AJS Costumes’ gorgeous silks and satins and laces, Sean McGarry’s vivid lighting and some niftily chosen set pieces gave Triumph Of Love an almost-fully-staged look despite Equity-mandated scripts-in-hand, and with Brent Crayon musical-directing and conducting the evening’s topnotch live chamber orchestra, who could ask for anything more?
Will Collyer and Todd Nielsen were production coordinators. Art Brickman was production manager, Nielsen production stage manager, and Kirsten D’Agostaro Shook assistant stage manager.
Those who missed their one-and-only chance to see Triumph Of Love can take comfort in knowing that the upcoming The Golden Apple, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Road Show offer a trio of chances not to snooze and lose.
In the meantime, yesterday’s triumphant Triumph Of Love once again made one thing abundantly clear. No one brings forgotten Broadway gems back to life more briefly and brilliantly than Musical Theatre Guild.
The Ann and Jerry Moss Theater, 3131 Olympic Blvd. Santa Monica.
November 16, 2014
Photos: Alan Weston