BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
The Look of Love
The Songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David
by Les Gutman
Burt Bacharach and Hal David never had to worry about gaining acceptance for what they were, or for the things they did. They were (and remain) one of the defining sounds of the Sixties, and have an enormous catalog of popular music hits (with over fifty reaching Billboard's Top-40) to prove it. Their collaboration also scored many of the memorable films of the period, as well as the long-running Tony-winning Broadway musical, Promises, Promises.
The Look of Love is conceived as a celebration of their songwriting alliance. Unlike the spate of bio-musicals we've been reviewing lately, this show doesn't concern itself with the back stories. It's a musical revue, in which twenty-nine songs are permitted to say all. Inconceivably, that turns out to be not so much.
The centerpiece of the effort here is (very properly) the music, and kudos is due to David Loud, who serves as arranger as well as musical director (also, naturally, to Don Sebesky, a terrific orchestra and some great singers, about whom, more later). What's particularly satisfying is the originality of the arrangements. Songs we are used to hearing in a certain way (Dionne Warwick's, of course, especially) are given fresh treatments that remind us of the original without replication; others sneak up on us as playful new introductions explode into familiar tunes. Considering the magnitude of the Bacharach/David canon, the curatorial judgments in creating this show were substantial. Although some people will no doubt be disappointed by the absence of a personal favorite, one can't complain about the basic formula (a heavy dose of the applause-inducing standards, mixed with several songs from Promises, Promises and the films as well as a smattering of more obscure pieces).
Beyond the music, however, the show disappoints. There's little in Scott Ellis's direction that rises above the workmanlike, and with a couple of major exceptions, the same can be said of Ann Reinking's choreography. By the second act, repetition and belabored (or just hackneyed) ideas start to take their toll, and we begin to wonder if this is not simply too much of a good thing. And except for Howell Binkley's lighting (which is excellent), the show's design is astonishingly weak. Derek McLane's set is a web of metal (one step above chain link fencing) that rises, falls and gyrates, and that's invariably discordant with the Bacharach/David love songs it frames; Martin Pakledinaz's costumes manage to make almost everyone look bad most of the time without even conjuring up the time frame (not known for its flattering wardrobes) on a regular basis; and Brian Ronan's sound succeeds only in building a barrier between the audience and the stage.
Which brings us back to the performers. The assembled cast includes singers of various stripes, all quite good and some exceptional, as well as some terrific dancers. At the top of the heap are Capathia Jenkins's singing and Desmond Richardson's dancing. Ms. Jenkins provides what passes for the show's thematic structure, her opening rendition of "The Look of Love" which echoing periodically along the way. She's also the putative surrogate for Dionne Warwick, though she steers (and/or is steered) clear of wholesale mimicking. Her performance combines power (wisely held in reserve) and an angelic voice as she renders standards like "Walk On By" (which coalesces into a stunning trio with Liz Callaway's "One Less Bell to Answer" and Jonathan Dokuchitz's "A House Is Not a Home" to bring down the Act I curtain) and "Make It Easy On Yourself". Mr. Richardson, a dancer who can sing, astonishes us visually, most especially in his pas de deux with Eugene Fleming (also a very fine dancer) featuring an instrumental "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" which showcases his gravity-defying balleticism against the counterpoint of Fleming's tap.
The cast includes two other front line female singers, Ms. Callaway and Janine LaManna. Ms. Callaway has a delightful voice and stage presence, and is a skilled Bacharach/David interpreter. It's wonderful to hear her singing a number of choice selections. Ms LaManna is also a very good singer but seems to be searching too hard for characters with which she is comfortable. They are joined by two dancers, Rachelle Rak and Shannon Lewis (both good in somewhat different respects). On the male front, the two principal singers are Mr. Dokuchitz, who proves himself game (not a bad characteristic in light of some of what is asked of him), personable and oftentimes endearingly nebbishy, and Kevin Ceballo, the token Latino, who does justice to the Spanish version of "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" but who is simply not compelling as a stage performer.
Despite its various and sundry appeals, not the least of which, of course, is the Bacharach/David songbook, one is left wondering how the enterprise as a whole ends up as mundane as it is. Perhaps The Look of Love would fare well in Las Vegas, or in a concert format, but to call it a Broadway musical revue is to set one's expectations too high.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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