Los Angeles Theater Review: JUSTIN LOVE (Celebration Theatre)

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by Samuel Garza Bernstein on October 18, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

JUSTIN IS JUST IN THE MIDDLE

The best thing about Justin Love, Celebration Theatre’s 30th season opening production, is the fun of watching the stylish performance of Grant Jordan, who gives his twink role a seriously meta spin that makes you laugh out loud. Like most of the characters in the show, he lusts after closeted movie star Justin Rush (Adam Huss). Just watching Jordan contemplate pinching Justin’s nipple is worth the price of admission; never mind his attempts to surreptitiously sniff him. There’s a delicacy to how Jordan approaches his comic moments—he somehow stays grounded even as he takes flight. His is a supporting character, but whenever he is on stage, he’s the one to watch.

Samuel Bernstein’s Stage and Cinema review of JUSTIN LOVE at the Celebration in Los AngelesThe second best thing about the show is Huss in the title role. He has the charm, physique, and presence to make us believe he could be a superstar. Huss preens and postures with a sly wink, exactly capturing the public face of a world-famous celebrity. Finding chemistry with his co-star is another story. The boy-meets-boy plot—wannabe writer from the sticks finds true love with movie star, who, in the end, risks his career to be honest about the love that dare not speak—doesn’t quite land with the flair or precision this sort of enterprise demands.

Tyler Ledon as the fledging writer has a lovely manner, lots of energy, and a sweet voice; but there is little in the material to help his cause. He and Huss play characters that fall in love because the script says so, not because the story gives them anything lovable to do. Sometimes that can be okay in a musical confection, but since Ledon and Huss don’t seem to have a lot of natural chemistry together, their declarations of love grow tedious, and by the inevitable happy ending, hollow.

Samuel Bernstein’s Stage and Cinema review of JUSTIN LOVE at the Celebration in Los AngelesI want to be carried away. As a gay man, I have an emotional investment in the Celebration Theatre and its truly pioneering commitment to presenting stories about my community. So it’s with a terrible feeling of regret that I acknowledge how little enthusiasm I have for this show. In marking the 30th anniversary of this theater company, we’re given a musical that could have been produced 30 years ago. Even though the script makes oblique references to John Travolta’s scandal with his masseur (for some nonsensical reason, referred to here as a masseuse), it’s as if nothing, not one element of the story, is related to the media world we live in today. The gossipy news updates feel like they’re from the 1980s, not from Perez Hilton or TMZ; the closeted star and his wife don’t really exist in the Twitter universe (a few dialogue asides notwithstanding); and the publicity machine depicted also feels dated.

Samuel Bernstein’s Stage and Cinema review of JUSTIN LOVE at the Celebration in Los AngelesAs the scary Pat Kingsley-esque publicist who is charged with protecting Justin Rush, Alet Taylor has a real gift for physical comedy. Her repartee is meant to be what makes us laugh, but her timing and movement are what do the trick. But the media world she inhabits doesn’t exist anymore. One plot point gives a clue that this material may in fact have been written quite a while ago: The publicist has a backstory that puts her in a romance with Patrick Duffy back in his Dallas days. That was the late 70s/early 80s. What is she, sixty? Taylor is gorgeously costumed, fits as a fiddle, and likely more than 20 years shy of being legally able to have had that affair.

Samuel Bernstein’s Stage and Cinema review of JUSTIN LOVE at the Celebration in Los AngelesOut of what seems like a misplaced urge for symmetry, Justin’s beard of a wife (Carrie St. Louis) is given an unlikely romance of her own with a paparazzo (Ciarán McCarthy) but they, too, seem to live in a Hollywood from days gone by—though St. Louis has a fabulous set of pipes, and a natural ease with her own beauty. She and McCarthy do have some nice moments together, but their storyline doesn’t ever really make much sense. There’s a subplot about some incriminating photos she thinks he leaked, that her husband and his gay lover would know were taken by someone else.

Director Michael Matthews keeps things moving—he does a lot with a difficult thrust stage and a large cast. The book is by Patricia Cotter and David Elzer; the story by Elzer and Bret Calder; music by Lori Scarlett and David Manning; and lyrics by Scarlett. To paraphrase a Sondheim line from Into the Woods: It’s nice. Not good, not bad, just nice.

Samuel Bernstein’s Stage and Cinema review of JUSTIN LOVE at the Celebration in Los Angeles

photos by Michael Lamont

Justin Love
Celebration Theatre in Hollywood
scheduled to end on November 18, 2012
for tickets, (323) 957-1884 or http://ww.celebrationtheatre.com

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