The dreams and searching and loneliness and blessings that make up this thing called life are highlighted in song in Art-In-Relation’s superbly performed, imaginatively directed intimate staging of John Bucchino’s aptly-titled It’s Only Life.

Casting a perceptive eye at a couple dozen of those moments when life throws us a curve, Bucchino’s lyrics are both clever and intelligent … and set to melodies hat manage to be both complex and hummable.

From the simplicity of a single performer singing from a single stool on a bare blackbox stage to the delightful dance moves of the title song, director-choreographer Alan Palmer finds ingenious ways for his cast of six (with credits extending from regional theater to recording studios to cabaret to Broadway) to create “characters” whose arcs link song to song.

“Unexpressed” introduces Jill Marie Burke as a woman “longing to meet that pair of eyes, dark as the night or endless blue,” feelings expressed to a man who it turns out only has eyes for another man.

Joaquin Nuñez and Philip McBride are a couple whom we discover unpacking boxes that become a makeshift dining table in “It Feels Like Home.” (“Yes we have come from a long way, friends say wrong way. Still, I only know when you hold me, it feels like home.”)

Kayre Morrison and Ken Shepski are long-marrieds with communication problems which she expresses in “When You’re Here” to a husband who just won’t get off the phone.

And Devon Davidson is a woman who “broke a home in New Orleans,” then set off for a new life that includes a man who “left a man in New York City” for his own fresh start. (Guess who.)

See another production of It’s Only Life, and Bucchino’s melodies will be every bit as gorgeous and his lyrics every bit as poignant (“If I ever say I’m over you, the unsentimental things I do will have driven out the ghosts somehow and pulled me through.”) and witty (“I took a love quiz in a women’s magazine. You failed two out of three areas and you only passed the third when my libido threw in a grading curve.”) and downright exquisite (“This moment, perfect, golden, grasp it see it.”) as they are here.

What no other production will give you are the particular talents united on the Chromolume Theatre stage, from Burke’s signature multi-octave pipes to Davidson’s crystal-clear soprano to Morrison’s rich, smoky alto, and all three look quite stunning in the “little black dresses” Palmer has designed for them.

Nuñez, McBride, and Shepski are no vocal slouches either, each with his distinctive look and sound as they create characters we come to know even without names or spoken dialog.

In songs ranging from the slow and jazzy “What You Need” to the witty “A Powerful Man” to the reflective “I’ve Learned To Let Things Go” to the lush full-cast harmonies of “It’s Only Life,” “Taking The Wheel,” and “I’m Not Waiting,” Bucchino’s songs are a marvelously eclectic bunch. (I’ll let you be Solomon and pick between “If I Ever Say I’m Over You” and “Grateful” as the most beautiful of all.)

Opening weekend audiences had the added treat of seeing Bucchino himself at the grand piano keyboard (and stepping in for Shepski on the humorous-catty “On My Bedside Table.”)

Jonas Sills and VanNessa Hulme score high marks throughout for their adept musical direction and Palmer for lighting a stage already lit bright with talent.

It’s Only Life is produced by Sills. Hulme is stage manager. Daniel Yokomizo takes over the ivories at all remaining performances. Amanda Aceves and Hulme are understudies.

Like Maltby-and-Shire’s Closer Than Ever and Jason Robert Brown’s Songs For A New World, John Bucchino’s It’s Only Life has played a major role in helping to distinguish the thematically interconnected “song cycle” from an old-fashioned “musical revue.”

It’s Only Life is my favorite of the bunch. Check it out Art-In-Relation-style and it just might become yours too.

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Art-In-Relation at Chromolume Theatre, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
June 11, 2017
Photos: Daniel J. Wilson

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