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December 29, 2018:

Love Actually Live reviewed by Rob Stevens

(Photo Credit: Lawrence K. Ho)

For the third year in a row, Beverly Hills’ The Wallis has joined with For The Record to produce a live action/multi-media production. In the past they have created shows featuring the scores from films directed by Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese. This year adapter/director Anderson Davis chose a modern Christmas classic, the 2003 Brit-heavy ensemble film Love Actually. Love Actually Live was my first experience with the concept and I actually loved it. Davis seamlessly blended iconic scenes from the film featuring a cast consisting of Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Martin Freeman among others. The underscoring of the film featured over two dozen songs. Davis let the film actors do the heavy lifting as a big chunk of the film’s action was shown on screens on and above the stage setting (a wonderful scenic design by Matthew Steinbrenner) while a cast of 18 singers would cover the songs in full. It amounted to a running time of two hours and forty minutes but it was sheer bliss for almost the entire time.

Rex Smith recording “Christmas Is All Around” (Photo Credit: Lawrence K. Ho)

The singers did not just sing a song as underscoring; they sang it full out, filled with emotional punch and pizazz. Davis also had a way of sharing a song among several of the characters as when young Sam (Cairo Mcgee) croons of his “Puppy Love” for a classmate and is joined by Sarah (Kelly Jakle) who has a crush on a co-worker. Karen’s (Tomasina Abate) marital woes are shared by others unlucky in love with “Both Sides Now”. Davis also showed his ingenuity in melding the actions of the live actors with those of their film counterparts. This was tremendously funny as Sean Yves Lessard as the Prime Minister, who is attracted to his new assistant Natalie (Carrie Manolakos), dances exuberantly to “Jump (For My Love)”. Lessard danced across half the set until he disappeared behind a screen where the film’s Hugh Grant picked up his dance moves and then vice versa, film back to live. The effect was also hugely effective when housekeeper Aurelia (Olivia Kuper Harris) unwittingly lets novelist Jamie’s (Steve Kazee) manuscript pages fly on the breeze into the lake. As we watch that happen on film, pages fly into the audience and Harris prepares to dive in after them.

Steve Kazee (Photo Credit: Lawrence K. Ho)

Rex Smith has the fun role of the crotchety old rock ‘n’ roller Billy Mack and he doesn’t disappoint, even donning a gold lame speedo for the finale. B. Slade delivered a jazzy rendition of the classic “White Christmas”. The talented cast also consisted of Doug Kreeger, Rumer Willis, Matthew Sargent, Alex Csillag, Megan Shung, Tom Zmuda, Glory Curda and Zak Resnick.

Sean Yves Lessard (The Prime Minister) and Carrie Manolakos (Natalie) (photo by Kevin Parry)

Musical Supervisor/Arranger Jesse Vargas led the ten member orchestra which was divided between strings in the orchestra pit and piano, brass and percussion upstage. The singing sounded great thanks to AnnMarie Milazzo’s vocal design and Benjamin Seldate’s sound design. Michael Berger’s lighting and Steve Mazurek’s costumes were also well executed. Love Actually Live put me into the true spirit of the holidays, like nothing I have seen in a very long time. Bravo to all involved.

The Wallis, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills. Ends Dec. 31. www.thewallis.org

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