Review by Brittany Crowell
“What is Love Actually [the movie]?” The new parody musical at the Jerry Orbach Theater, Love Actually? asks in its opening moments, during the iconic voice over by Hugh Grant at the Heathrow arrivals terminal.
The 2003 film, ‘Love Actually,’ an ensemble romantic comedy set in the two weeks before Christmas, has become beloved by many, and highly critiqued by others. Bob and Tobly McSmith’s new musical parody wonderfully balances a respect for the nostalgia, jabs at the career choices of the famous (mostly British) cast of the film, and exaggerates some of the films more questionable themes and moments.
Some of the jokes fall flat, but the majority of the humor lands and allows even the most staunch lovers of the film to cackle at its shortcomings and its cast. There were only a few moments that went too far, namely the coverage of the storyline of Sarah (Laura Linney in the film) and her brother Michael, who is in a mental institution. One of the more sobering scenes of the film, these jokes poked a bit too hard and didn’t handle the sensitive issue of mental illness and family with as much care as was necessary.
The cast are all outstanding. Each actor plays between five and eleven different iconic characters from the film. This piece feels like watching a marathon being run, as performers run offstage and appear moments later in a new costume, wig, and physical demeanor. Kayla Catan, who plays Kiera Knightley, Samuel, Aurelia (renamed humorously for this piece) and others was especially a stand-out. Her characters felt clear and active, her energy palpable even from the back row. Cast members Eric Peters and Daniel Hayward were also especially adept at their characterizations, each of their cumulative 12 characters feeling distinct and unique. Joyah Spangler and James Parks also shone in their representations.
The team was extra male heavy, especially for such an ensemble piece. A few too many jokes relied on the male-playing-female schtick, which felt overused and was some of the basest humor of the piece. At times it almost felt as if there was an additional female actor needed, but missing.
Basil Winterbottom’s music and orchestrations harkened to the film’s soundtrack, traditional musical theater and holiday fare. The tunes were a fun shift from the close script to the film’s story-line, and provided much of the humor for the piece. The McSmiths’ script, while close to the film, did a wonderful job of shining light and humor onto the more questionable moments within the film itself, while keeping most of the loved and iconic moments mostly intact.
The scenic design by Ryan Howell was conservative and multi-functional, creating the marathon course for the actors to run in, out, and around. The piece truly came alive in Howell’s props design and Dustin Cross’ costume design, which managed to capture the feeling of (or even exact items of) the film’s iconic early 2000’s look for each character.
The long and the short of it is, this is a scrappy and wonderfully messy parody that is full of amazing talent and is incredibly enjoyable for those who love the film, or hate the film, but it is definitely made for those who are deeply familiar with the film and have a great nostalgia for its characters and its setting. If this sounds like you, I’d recommend it as an enjoyable comedy for a night out at the theater this holiday season.
LOVE ACTUALLY? – Books and lyrics by Bob and Tobly McSmith; Music and orchestrations by Basil Winterbottom; Directed by Tim Drucker
WITH – Kayla Catan (Kiera and others); Daniel Hayward (Liam and others); James Parks (Colin and others); Eric Peters (Hugh and others); Joyah Spangler (Emma and others)
Scenic and props design by Ryan Howell; costume and wig design by Dustin Cross; sound design by Matthew Fischer; lighting design by Weston G. Wetzel; music direction by Curtis Reynolds; choreography by Brooke Engen; At the Jerry Orbach Theater (210 West 50th Street), 212-921-7862; www.loveactuallyparody.com; Through January 14. Running time: 90 minutes.