LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE Theater Review
British actors Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Keira Kinightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Rowan Atkinson and Americans Billy Bob Thornton and Laura Linney are currently appearing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts – uh, well, not actually. But before I demystify this, let me get this “disclaimer” out of the way right at the top: The world premiere of Love Actually Live at the Wallis is actually good fun and mildly entertaining. The nearly sold out crowd in the Bram Goldsmith Theater seemed to actually love the circa two and half show with one intermission.
This multi-media concert strives to breathe new life into Kiwi writer/director Richard Curtis’ 2003’s Christmas season romcom Love Actually that follows the romantic peccadilloes of a number of couples, including the prime minister.
This multi-media concert strives to breathe new life into Kiwi writer/director Richard Curtis’ 2003’s Christmas season romcom Love Actually that follows the romantic peccadilloes of a number of couples, including the prime minister. The aforementioned who’s who of British thespians plus token Yanks actually appear on screens and are interwoven with live performances by a much lesser known cast headlined by Rumer Willis (rumor has its she’s the daughter of the mediocre actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore) who do a bit of acting but mostly sing, backed by a 15-piece orchestra.
Most of the songs replicated from the movie, like this production, are unoriginal in that Lennon and McCartney, et al, did not compose their ditties with the movie and now this stage adaptation in mind – but I hope they are raking in the royalties. In addition to 1967’s “All You Need is Love”, the retreads include Paula Anka’s 1960 “Puppy Love”, the Bay City Rollers’ 1965 “Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)”, Joni Mitchell’s 1969 “Both Sides Now”, Irving Berlin’s 1940 “White Christmas”, et al. There is one song that methinks was original to the 2003 movie performed by Bill Nighy’s has-been rocker making a comeback by, ironically, plagiarizing his earlier hit now entitled “Christmas Is All Around.” Onstage, as if to underscore the lack of originality, some of these golden oldies are repeated. Five classical musicians are ensconced in the orchestra pit while rock performers play at a higher level of the mutli-level, multi-dimensional stage that endeavors to intertwine live action with the 15 year-old movie about love conquering most, if not all.
To quote from a Beach Boys song that was played onstage, “God Only Knows” what to make of this amalgam. Is this multi-media mishmash of live music and performances with film clips projected onstage a new art form? (Although I seem to recall that six years ago, when French Stewart starred as Buster Keaton in Sacred Fools’ Stoneface that Vanessa Claire Stewart’s highly imaginative, original production projected some of the silent movie star’s stunts onto screen and then French would pick up on it and continue the action live onstage.)
Or is this stage-screen-live music amalgam just repurposing and cannibalizing content plus exploiting its preexisting brand name recognition that’s 15 years old and had already appropriated numerous musicians’ work for its own purposes? Is it a case of very old wine in admittedly flashy new bottles?
Be that as it may, the Wallis audience seemed to actually love the show, as photoshopped and unoriginal as it may be. The movie’s original message about the primary importance of love for our well-being may also be totally lacking in originality (see: 1 Corinthians 13) but nonetheless bears repeating. Including the aforementioned movie stars, the large cast features:
Rumer Willis (Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Fox’s “Empire”) Tony and Grammy Award-Winning Actor Steve Kazee (Broadway’s Once: The Musical), Kelley Jakle (Pitch Perfect), Rex Smith (RIAA Gold® recording artist), Grammy Award-nominee B. Slade, Carrie Manolakos (Broadway’s Mamma Mia!, Wicked), Justin Sargent (NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert), Zak Resnick (Broadway’s Mamma Mia!, Fox’s “American Idol”), Doug Kreeger (Broadway’s Les Misérables), Olivia Kuper Harris (Postmodern Jukebox), Tomasina Abate, Sean Yves Lessard, Cairo McGee, Glory Curda, Tom Zmuda, Alex Csillag, Megan Shung, Carson Higgins and Emily Lopez.
Love Actually Live is adapted and directed by Anderson Davis, scenic design by Matthew Steinbrenner, video design by Aaron Rhyne, co-Produced by the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts, Shane Scheel and Siobhan O’Neill and inspired by the Universal Pictures/Working Title motion picture and presented by special arrangement with Universal Theatrical Group. So I assume that the appropriate people have been paid off and this is from a legal (if not artistic) perspective not a case of theft of intellectual property and copyright infringement. (Hopefully all of the screen actors who appear in clips are getting their fair share of the loot.)
It’s amazing to me how in our profit driven culture content with preexisting brand name recognition is moved from medium to medium in order to maximize profits. This often includes productions that were, to begin with, very mediocre but carry with them that coveted brand name profile. It’s as if the “cultural” powers that be are allergic to originality. Is Love Actually Live live or Memorex? Take your pick. Cheerio!
Love Actually Live is being performed Tuesdays (but not on Dec. 25) through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through Dec. 31 (a special Monday performance) in the Bram Goldsmith Theater, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. For info: (310)746-4000; http://thewallis.org/love.
L.A.-based film historian/reviewer Ed Rampell co-authored the third edition of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” available at: https://mutualpublishing.com/product/the-hawaii-movie-and-television-book/ .