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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Duchess


  Emma Williams and Michael Xavier/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

Hallelujah! At last a musical with an agreeable score, nifty lyrics and a snappy, well-turned book whose witty one-liners go some considerable distance in reducing the sob-element of this undoubted tearjerker. I'm referring, of course, to composer Howard Goodall and book and lyric writer Stephen Clark's terrific adaptation of Erich Segal's Love Story.
First seen earlier this year at the Chichester Festival, it's transfer gives the West End a very welcome, needed and agreeably packaged Christmas gift.
Based on Segal's best-selling 1970 novel of the same name, and to a lesser extent on the iconic film whose much-mocked catchphrase was "love means never having to say you're sorry," this bittersweet romance between a wealthy all-American jock-cum-lawyer called Oliver Barrett IV (Michael Xavier) and a feisty young librarian-cum-pianist called Jenny Cavilleri (Emma Williams) transforms itself comfortably into a musical, benefitting immeasurably from Goodall's romantic score.
Set in Massachusetts and New York and covering a five-year period starting in 1963, its simple story follows Jenny and Oliver's on-campus love affair, their childless marriage, and ends with her dying from leukemia at the age of 25.
Apart from Jenny's tragic death, their marriage, during which Oliver becomes a successful lawyer and Jenny gives up all hope of a career as a concert pianist, is a blissful one, compromised only by Oliver's stubborn refusal to become reconciled with his equally stubborn disapproving father (Richard Corderey).
Played without an interval, the piece, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, is kept moving fluidly from scene to scene on a non-specific set by Peter McIntosh, which also accommodates the show's five musicians.
The creative team has also managed to solve the problem of how to incorporate Francis Lai's Oscar-winning theme by having Jenny play a snatch of it at a concert in which she is performing. And, mercifully, the above-quote line about never having to say you're sorry is nowhere in evidence.
Though the casts work pretty well as an ensemble, the stand-out performance comes from Emma Williams, whose engaging personality is perfect for the razor-sharp Jenny. Michael Xavier is spot-on as the self-confident Harvard jock who falls for her at their very first meeting, and there's a winning turn, too, from Peter Polycarpou as Jenny's warm-hearted and loving father.
Love Story is a small, but perfectly formed chamber musical that deserves to take the town. I wish it well.

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