Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Was Love Song Music To London Critics' Ears?

Was Love Song Music To London Critics' Ears?

Last evening marked the European premiere of playwright John Kolvenbach's Love Song, less than a year after its debut at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre. The earliest reviews were decidedly negative save one, but later reviews provide a bit more balance.

Benedict Nightingale of The Times offers up a four star review (out of five), saying: "[T]his is an intelligent play with a wise ending and, thanks to John Crowley’s direction, a crisp, well-acted one too. It leaves you meat, not fluff, to ponder afterwards. And that’s not often the case with American comedies today."

Saying the "production's seamlessness is exhilarating," Variety's David Benedict has praise: "The sweet surprise of John Kolvenbach's play Love Song is its gentle touch. Instead of hitting auds over the head with earnest metaphysical musings, Kolvenbach works up his ideas of realism and reality, habit and hope, into a quirky romantic comedy. The beautifully cast, pitch-perfect European premiere beautifully delivers both sides of the equation: In the hands of director John Crowley, it's both romantic and comic....Unexpectedness is the play's strength."

Calling the production, "the flimsiest piece of whimsy on which to base a 90-minute play," The Independent's Alice Jones wistfully notes, "You can't help wishing, though, that Kolvenbach had given his actors something a little more substantial to chew on....(Kristen) Johnston is initially overpowering but her energetic presence ultimately carries the play and (Michael) McKean provides her with a likeable foil. The scene where they decide to pull a sickie is an especially good showcase for their excellent comic timing."

Dismissing the show as "attenuated whimsy" along with a two stars out of five review, The Guardian's Michael Billington says, "Admittedly Kolvenbach's play has a few flicks of wit and an arch playfulness....But behind the play lurks that reverence for madness and delusion that runs through a lot of American drama....I began to yearn for the attentiveness to the actual that once characterised American theatre."

Calling the show "blush makingly trite" in his two out of five star review, Nicholas de Jongh of the Evening Standard nevertheless lauds some of the acting chops on display: "I was never really hooked on this arid, little debate at all. (Cillian) Murphy's bearded, semi-detached looking Beane gives a performance of such riveting poignancy that he tended to make me gloss over the ruminative silliness of Love Song's contentions....Murphy beautifully captures both this bemused mental state and Beane's excited loquacious joy in sight of his fantasy girlfriend."

As previously noted, I was captivated by the world premiere production in Chicago, and while I can't be sure that John Crowley has directed this version to the same emotional impact, I would make tracks to the theatre to see this one if only I were in London.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Next Stanza: Love Song Opens In London (November 4, 2006)
Kolvenbach's Love Song To Sing In London (October 13, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #7 – Love Song (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL) (May 19, 2006)

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At 06 December, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Initial reviews in London (albeit it was a freevie paper) are not that positive. Neve Campbell is said to be very robotic and the inevitable cheese factor is rather high.

A shame really. But in today's cutthroat London theatre world I hope it gets a fair chance.

You never can tell here. When you have an Alan Cummings' play close early but sustain endless sold-out nights of Avenue Q - it's all upside down.

I am looking forward to seeing David Hare's next week!

At 06 December, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


I hope "Love Song" is offered a fair chance, too (the Neve Campbell role was played in Chicago by Mariann Mayberry, who is an explosive talent).

So sad to see that plays are having so much difficulty on the West End, but it's pretty much the same on Broadway, too.

As for Avenue Q, I never understood what all the fuss was about. I mean, yes, I enjoyed it, but found it terribly mean-spirited. I'm surprised it's continuing to do so well in London.

Which David Hare work are you seeing next week?



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