Love Actually Live – Actually Great Fun

By Ernest Kearney — This was my first “mashup” of theatre and film with soundtrack framed within a concert rendering.

I’m aware that such stagings are hugely popular and that the Hollywood Bowl offers up a steady diet of them during their Summer schedule, and now I can see why.

Love Actually Live at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts starts off with points for me ahead of the game.

First it’s Love Actually, the talent-heavy, episodic holiday tapestry that became an immediate Christmas classic upon its premiere in 2003, written and directed by Richard Curtis.  Curtis’ picture is hanging on my office wall, my personal tribute to a man whose talents contributed to some of comedy’s high-water marks in my opinion: the near incomparable Black-Addler series, the Mr. Bean series and the criminally underrated Spitting Image.

Love Actually was his first effort in the directing sphere and warms my pit-hardened old heart at every viewing.

The second point for me was the venue.  Besides providing me with some of the year’s highlights for 2018 ** writer's hand **, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts has earned my greatest respect for truly living up to its name.

There are in this town numerous “ensembles” which are hardly that, and a collection of “performance centers” that cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to deserve that designation.  The Annenberg, under the stewardship of Artistic Director Paul Crewes, has earned their name with distinction.   Evenings of puppetry, dance, international works, pieces honed specifically to the American experience and music presentations, such as the subject of this article, all testify to Crewes’ commitment to adhering to the Wallis’ ambitions of being a Center for the Performing Arts.

Directed and adapted by Anderson Davis, I admit I was surprised by the symbiotic shadowing of show to film.

I suppose what I was expecting was a “concert” presentation.  Orchestra, singers, music, lyrics, that’s all folks, good-night.

What I was treated to was an overlay of film and staging that harkened me back to – get ready for it people – Winsor McCay. **writer's hand **

Credit must go to Matthew Steinbrenner for his scenic reckoning of London, Aaron Rhyne for his video weaving and Steve Mazurek’s costumes for achieving a seamless interplay of stage and film.

I have to admit that when reading in the program I was in store for a show lasting 2 hours and 40 minutes did have me somewhat apprehensive, but once Davis and cast set to work a faster two hours plus I’ve never known.

With cast members mirroring the likes of Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy and Andrew Lincoln, performers would pop in and out of scenes from the film projected onto the faux Edwardian architecture of the set with the integrity of the narrative always maintained.  The fullness of a very intricate film score was given the range that could only be suggested on the multi-screens at movie houses.

Davis also managed to delight and enlighten with his pairing of characters in the performance of certain pieces adding emphasis to their dramatic dilemmas, something the film itself was denied.

A talented set of performers – topped by Olivia Kuper Harris, B. Slade, Carrie Manolakos, Rex Smith and Steve Kazee – joined with Davis’ skillfully applied razzle-dazzle, popped the film into the laps of the audience and drew the audience into the soul of a masterful work of cinema.

This was the last staging of 2018 I’ll be reviewing, and frankly, I couldn’t think of a better way to close out the year.

 

♦     ♦     ♦

 

**  writer's hand**  See my year-end roundup.

** writer's hand ** Winsor McCay was one of America’s most influential and innovative cartoonists / animators.  His art work can still be enjoyed in the surviving examples of his popular strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, which ran sporadically in the American press from 1904 to 1911 and saw a brief revival in the 1920’s.  His greatest success was with one of the first animated cartoons, Gertie the Dinosaur.  Today, most film and animation students watch the ubiquitous clip shown in every Cinema 101 classroom and are left perplexed by the importance of the simple black line drawing of Gertie, a smiling brontosaurus frolicking about.

This is a result of being denied the work’s context.  Gertie was part of a vaudeville act which McCay performed on the same circuit as Harry Houdini and W.C. Fields.  With whip in hand, McCay would stand before the large screen on which Gertie,”the only dinosaur in captivity,” would — in puppy dog fashion — follow McCay’s bidding.  More or less.  McCay’s influence can be traced in the works of Luis Buñuel, Tim Burton, Salvador Dali and Terry Gilliam.

♦     ♦     ♦

Love Actually Live

runs through Dec. 31

for schedule, tickets and information:

www.thewallis.org/love

Address:

BOX OFFICE:
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
310.746.4000


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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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