Goethe’s 1774 romantic classic Die Leiden des jungen Werthers convinced many ill-starred suitors to off themselves in the pain of unrequited love, and Richard Curtis’s 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually has surely convinced just as many yearning paramours to commit ill-advised confessions of infatuation towards their best friends’ spouses, their officemates, and their employees in the holy name of Christmas. This practice has become so ingrained in our culture that some review these acts of self-humiliation and sexual harassment annually as part of the holiday fetes. Critics have found Love Actually incoherent and overwrought, misogynistic, “a little like a gourmet meal that turns into a hot-dog eating contest,” “the least romantic film of all time,” and “the worst Christmas movie ever.” And now this cherished holiday picture is also (unofficially) a musical!
Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody
Through 1/2/22: Wed-Fri 7 PM, Sat 2 and 7 PM, Sun 2 and 5 PM (see website for holiday schedule); Apollo Theater Chicago, 2550 N. Lincoln, 773-935-6100, apollochicago.com, $29-$59.
A Christmas wreath tacked inches away from an air vent on an otherwise bare wall sets the tone as one ascends the stairs to the Apollo Theater. Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody, with book and lyrics by Bob and Tobly McSmith and music and orchestrations by Basil Winterbottom, is bare bones, directed by Tim Drucker with six actors embodying nine love stories in 85 minutes on a stage set consisting of wrapping paper and a few doors (designed by Joshua Warner). Yet this economy—which includes actors setting and clearing furniture and swapping wigs, costumes, and characters with agility—is to be admired. Packed with zingers and disparaging of the grand gestures “love” inspires towards people who are actually strangers, the result is absurd in premise and triumphant in achievement, self-aware, sassy, and sung brilliantly by a cast that flings their talents into the crowd with abandon, like so many Mardi Gras beads. Those who love Love Actually will have fun—those who hate it will have even more.