“Love,” so the song pile-driven deep into your brain goes, “will never let you be the same.” Which goes for the show, too.
You can’t unsee Aspects Of Love, the sweepingly silly Andrew Lloyd Webber musical extravagantly revived at the Hayes Theatre. You certainly can’t unhear Love Changes Everything, its saccharine strains injected into every key moment of the piece. But it’s the story of free love in all its creepy forms that really lingers.
Oh sure, it all starts charmingly enough. Paris in the romantic ‘40s. (Older) girl meets (younger) boy. Boy succonds the girl back to squat at his uncle’s villa. Uncle shows up and makes eyes at his nephew’s girl. Boy goes to war, girl shacks up with the old man.
And Webber’s music is abundant, even here at the Hayes with a 12-piece orchestra somehow squeezed behind the stage (Geoffrey Castles conducts as musical director). It swells in all the right moments but never overawes the performances thanks to the spot on sound design (Alan Lugger). There’s some memorable melodies, as you might expect from Webber, even aside from the one he constantly beats us over the head with.
But towards the end of the first act the story, adapted by Webber from a 1950s British novella, really drowns in stupefying suds. Boy returns for his girl. A gun is drawn. Uncle backs off. But girl wants both – and the uncle’s mistress, too. Jump forward a dozen years and boy has his eye on another girl – the daughter of his former lover and underage cousin.
And maybe all that casual polygamy, paedophilia and incest works in the pulpy beach read. Maybe it would work on stage, too, if it wasn’t so painfully earnest and wretchedly chauvinist, set to Webber’s ultimately turgid score with banal lyrics from Don Black and Charles Hart. And maybe if it weren’t so oddly sexless, for a show as swept up in forbidden love and lust as this one.
I kept unfairly thinking of Passion, a period romance written by Stephen Sondheim a few years later, equally as hysterical yet anchored in an emotional authenticity. Fresh off his mega-hit Cats, Webber is simply in a different class. As legendary New York Times critic Frank Rich deliciously wrote after the 1990 Broadway opening: “He has written a musical about people. Whether Aspects of Love is a musical for people is another matter.”
The Hayes Theatre revival, from the ambitious Walk this Way Productions, fails to make any sort of case for its place in the theatre. Hardly its fault, aside from the inexplicable decision to choose it in the first place. It does, however, make individual cases for its many talented performers and backstage creatives.
Caitlin Berry comes off the delightful Hayes production of She Loves Me and sings even better here as the girl in the middle, Rose. Alex Dillingham’s voice never faulted as Jonathan. Grant Smith is a debonair George and Stefanie Jones made every moment count as Giulietta. The really terrific ensemble – 16 of them, remarkably – make this show the most sonorous of any at the Hayes.
And it looks very handsome indeed, thanks to the smart set from Steven Smith, perfect costumes by Tim Chappel and great lighting designed by John Rayment. Little expense is spared, with apparent plans to take the show on the road.
Which only makes you lament the waste of resources on this damn near offensive musical matinee romance. Leave this stuff to the commercial sector. There is much smarter music theatre that deserves Sydney’s attention.
Aspects Of Love plays the Hayes Theatre until December 30
Image above: Jonathan Hickey, Grant Smith, Caitlin Berry, Matthew Manahan and Ava Carmont in Aspects of Love at the Hayes Theatre. Photo by David Hooley