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|A CurtainUp Review
Taking a Chance on Love: The Lyrics and Life of John Latouche
Here I go again
I hear those trumpets blow again
All aglow again
Taking a chance on love
Here I slide again
About to take that ride again
Taking a chance on love
Favorite lines from Ethel Waters' big number in the 1940 musical Cabin In the Sky
Yes, indeed, John LaTouche was a talented lyricist . His words besides boosting the career of Ethel Waters made Beverly Sills a star (with The Ballad of Baby Doe ) and added spark to Leonard Bernstein's Candide. His untimely death at forty-one may well have deprived us of more fine songs to come. It's easy to see how a musical theater enthusiast could see a challenge to turn around his prescient " "doomed, doomed, doomed to disappear without a trace" from one of his most successful musicals, The Golden Apple, (1954). But does his work and story lend itself to an over two hour biographical revue? After seeing the York Theatre Company's well-intentioned attempt named after LaTouche's biggest hit, the answer is, I'm afraid no.
Unlike previous musicals the York's artistic director James Morgan has shepherded to the stage of their St. Peter's Church home, Taking a Chance on Love suffers from a number of flaws, the fatal one being that it lends itself more to a play with music than a revue with biographical information sandwiched between songs. As the work of a lyricist who never had a steady musical colleague (think Schmidt and Jones of the York's terrific retrospective revue, The Show Goes On) this retrospective starts off lacking a key ingredient for a successful revue, a distinctive musical voice. While it's nice to have "Ballad for Americans" (made famous by Paul Robeson and sung at the 1940 Republican Presidential Nominating Convention and other of his best songs brought back to life, much of what's presented, fair or not, simply doesn't resonate all that powerfully any more.
LaTouche's story is interesting enough to make a movie like Gods and Monsters. The parties held in his New York salon which attracted people from the world of literature, stage and politics might lend themselves to a better "Wild Party" than either of this season's musicals by that name. However, this patchwork is less than gripping. The script has each member of the cast take turns either filling us in on bits and pieces of LaTouche's history or actually being him -- with only Eddie Korbich succeeding in this double duty task.
Donna English who is generally relaxed and at ease on stage, seems less than comfortable in the patter part of this script. While Both English and Terry Burrell, who apparently stepped in late in the day as a replacement for Pamela Isaacs, have nice voices, the men outshine them.
The awkward script is not helped by the production. James Morgan certainly knows how to choreograph small musicals within the confines of his company's small stage. His direction and set design for Exactly Like You was a shining example of inventive set design and choreography without awkwardness. The same can't be said for the static set and musical staging in this production, nor do Suzi Benzinger's costumes help to relieve the sense of watching a rehearsal rather than a finished show.
In the final analysis, this well-intentioned little show is a case of art imitating life. As LaTouche's shows often suffered from poor books, so does Taking a Chance on Love.
LINKS TO SHOWS MENTIONED
The Show Goes On
Exactly Like You