Justin Love/book by Patricia Cotter & David Elzer/based on a story by David Elzer & Bret Calder/music: Lori Scarlett & David Manning; lyrics: Lori Scarlett/directed by Michael Matthews/Celebration Theatre/through: TBD
Very few new shows, especially musicals, have that extra special spark, that je ne sais quoi that makes them a surefire success. For starters, there must be a good book - with a story that's credible...and funny - and a pleasant score that keeps your fingers and toes tapping, at least while you are in your seats. Justin Love, based on a story by David Elzer and Bret Calder, is one such musical, that , in spite of its excess, is guaranteed to make you laugh nonstop and with a cast and crew to die for.
There's no business like show business, as the saying goes. When wanna-be screenwriter Chris Andrews (Tyler Ledon), fresh from Michigan, steps off the bus in Hollywood, finds an apartment, a boyfriend and a job in a pr office - all within the first five minutes - with a pace like that, you know you can't afford to drift off or you'll miss a key element in the plotline. You really do get hooked by the deliriously funny setups of conflict, as it's hardly a bed of roses for Chris. His boss Buck Ralston (Alet Taylor) is a bitch, a consummate ballbuster, who pushes the limits of human endurance, and his musician lover Donovan (Terrance Spencer) has wandering eyes. Welcome to Hollywood! Buck's biggest client Justin Rush (Adam Huss) - think John Stamos and Brad Pitt rolled into one - is supposedly happily married to Amanda (Carrie St. Louis), but comes out of the closet when he falls head over heels for Chris. For Chris, it's an unexpected dream that soon becomes a fiendish nightmare. Enter paparazzi Mitch (Ciaran McCarthy), a former hometown boy who has always idolized Amanda from a far, so two illicit romances bloom. There's even a third, as Donovan and his new boyfriend Syd (Grant Jordan) form a strange liaison with Chris and find their merry mischievous way into everyone's lives.
The music for Justin Love is delightfully up, zippy and Lori Scarlett's lyrics really move the story forward in fine fashion. There are no wasted moments, and Elzer and Patricia Cotter know how to tantalize with topical humor. With references to Prince Harry, Mitt Romney and the like, it seems like they were writing 'til the eleventh hour. Funny stuff! Music-wise gotta love "The Superficial" and neat choreography from Janet Roston, throughout. Roston and director Michael Matthews make the movements full in a tiny space, as they recently did too with Celebration's brilliant The Color Purple.
The cast are sublime. Ledon is adorable, making the underling a true champ. Huss not only has a set of pecs and abs to choke a horse, but can act as well. He makes Rush vulnerable and sincere. Taylor as Buck steals the show with her over-the-top, frenetically obsessive behavior. Without going for a single laugh, she makes this character zing with truth. Everyone knows a Buck or two in this town! Jordan and Spencer make a winsome duo as the lovers we should grow to hate but cannot. Jordan particularly is a hoot in his fanlike hogging of the spotlight. McCarthy and St. Louis do not have the easiest of roles and do wonderfully well in making the secondary couple convincing and winningly honest. Gina Torrecilla and Afton Quast are hilarious as on-air gossip hostesses, as well as in other roles. Praise to the entire ensemble, which also includes Travis Leland, Sabrina Miller and Adam Joseph Reich who essay several roles. Set design by Stephen Gifford of various Hollywood locales is much abetted by Jason H.Thompson's large projections on three sides, and Naila Aladdin Sanders' costumes are contemporary bright.