Review: We Need A Little Christmas Now

Dec. 23, 2018 | By Bruce R. Feldman

"Love Actually Live," The Wallis, Beverly Hills, Dec 4 – 31, 2018

In Brief: You don’t have to be a die-hard fan of "Love Actually," the movie, to enjoy this winning pastiche now on stage at The Wallis

First, a confession: I’m a huge fan of the movie Love Actually. I watch it annually – usually more than once.

I love its sentimental, eccentric characters and the multiple bittersweet intertwining love stories that writer Richard Curtis cleverly manages to bring together at the story's conclusion.

Love Actually Live combines on-stage action with movie clips and an orchestra

It’s also hysterically funny, overflows with heart and holiday warmth, and has three big musical numbers. For me it will always be perfect.

The creative team and large cast of Love Actually Live set out to recreate those same crowd-pleasing qualities in the stage version that’s now on view at The Wallis. Improbable as it may seem, they largely succeed.

They’ve combined movie scene clips, a 15-piece orchestra, and a likeable cast of singers and actors into a warmhearted, winning holiday confection that’s sure to please both fans of the movie and anyone else who hankers for a big dose of holiday spirit.

Scenes from the film are projected on pieces of the impressive, multi-level set that fly in and out of view to simulate different locations in the story. The live actors, dressed to look like the characters in the movie, silently act out the scenes beside or below the projections.

The dialogue the audience hears comes from the terrific movie cast in the clips: Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, and more.

As each scene fades out, the stage actors comment on the action by performing songs that either were in the original film or that adapter and director Anderson Davis has interpolated into his script.

Nearly all of the beloved tunes used or referenced in the movie are here, including Christmas Is All Around, All You Need is Love, Bye Bye (Baby Goodbye), Both Sides Now and The Trouble With Love Is, this last in a thrilling, soulful Act One-closing interpretation by Carrie Manolokos.

We weren’t expecting Paul Anka’s Puppy Love or Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, but they’re in the stew, too, for better or worse.

What’s not in the mix is the film’s show-stopping eleven-o’clock number, Mariah’s Carrey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You. The producers seem to have gotten the rights for everything else in the movie, but not this. Too bad, because the number they replaced it with, Kelly Clarkson’s Underneath the Tree, is forgettable.

Minor quibbles aside, Love Actually Live is fun, romantic, entertaining. It’s a hybrid or mash-up or multi-media presentation. Call it what you want, it works.

"Love Actually Live," The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 746-4000, www.thewallis.org

#theater #reviews #musicals