July 2010: Love Story – Review

Love Story is a new musical by Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark. Stephen helped to re-work Martin Guerre at the Prince Edward Theatre in London and then co-wrote with Alain on the completely new British and American touring versions. He has been working on Love Story with Howard for a number of years and they have produced a stunning new musical.

It played at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre from 29 July to 26 June and will transfer to the West End’s Duchess Theatre, opening 6 December 2010, following previews from 27 November and booking to 26 February 2011. It will be produced in the West End by Adam Spiegel, Stephen Waley-Cohen and Michael Ball, in his first role as a producer.


Love Story

What can you say about a musical that is absolute perfection? Love Story has marvellous melodies by Howard Goodall and a cleverly crafted book and lyrics by Stephen Clark. Some dialogue is drawn from Erich Segal’s book, as it is in the hit film, and the first line of song: ‘What can you say about a girl?’ is aptly taken directly from the opening sentence of the book. However, the musical gains immeasurably from a refreshing dose of additional wit, integrity, depth of character and the magical songs that lift it into another league altogether.

Jennifer Cavilleri, a Radcliffe music graduate, is quick witted, feisty and funny. She tries in vain to resist the charms of hunky Harvard ice-hockey jock Oliver Barrett IV, even giving up a prized piano scholarship in Paris so they can marry. Emma Williams as Jennifer and Michael Xavier as Oliver give outstanding performances, completely capturing the sensitivity, wit and vulnerability of the characters while never over sentimentalizing them. Their voices are simply stunning and their on stage chemistry fairly sizzles.

Love Story

Not only are Jenny and Oliver’s backgrounds in sharp contrast but their relationships with their fathers couldn’t be more different. As an additional dimension to the theme of love, it is never in doubt that both fathers love their children, but Oliver’s bitterness at never being able to live up to his father’s expectations is the exact opposite of the warm-hearted love and affection that Jenny shares with her doting Italian father. Rob Edwards gives a masterstudy in aloofness and patronising tone as the authoritarian Oliver Barrett III while Peter Polycarpou perfectly captures the endearing emotional warmth of Phil Cavilleri.

The story may end in tears but it is full of fun and laughter, a joyous celebration of young romance. Never more so than with the uproarious ‘pasta’ song that marks passing time in their early married life. Oliver studies his law books while Jenny chops and stirs, cooking pasta and sauce on a fully functional kitchen unit and as tomatoey garlicy smells drift towards the audience we see steam rising from the pans. It’s a terrific scene that’s full of knockabout fun and brilliantly witty lyrics where every conceivable kind of pasta is named and rhymed with a kind of Rabelaisian virtuosity: ‘Life is molto bene/ When your pesto’s mixed with penne.’


Love Story

Rachel Kavanaugh’s slick staging allows the many different locations to seamlessly follow one another. I watched in total fascination as cast members moved tables, chairs and kitchen units with mesmerizing, almost balletic choreography to create scenes as various as an elaborate dinner table setting, a library, a restaurant and an ice-hockey stadium.

Love Story

As a background to the simple staging, the piano and string ensemble play against an elegantly curved white arc. Drawing on Jenny’s musical preferences, Howard’s haunting music has both astringent Bachian elements and the tunefulness of the Beatles. It’s a mix that allows you to feel their relationship through the music, while Stephen’s lyrics sit perfectly on the notes landing each rhyme and emotion memorably. The songs were mostly written lyric first and Howard contributed to the lyrics for the opening number. As a subtle reference to the film, the theme tune is played as part of Jenny’s piano recital. One of Howard’s particularly beautiful melodies is ‘Nocturnes’, in which Jenny sings of her longing for children and how she will soothe them with music – both Schubert and Nina Simone.

Love Story

Stephen’s lyrics are honed to perfection, frequently with his trademark internal rhymes: ‘I will master every pasta till it’s right’ or the moving: ‘Say that love’s a bridge to cross an ocean/ Pray that it survives when hope does not/ Say that there’s a light that shines regardless/ Pray that love abides no matter what.’ The carefully placed reprises highlight the pathos of certain moments, in particular with the song: ‘Everything We Know’ which is first sung after Jenny and Oliver have fallen out. Oliver sings: ‘I never thought there’d be a day without you/ How could there be a day without you here/ How could this be the ending of our story?/ Would everything we know just disappear?’ and Jenny replies: ‘I always thought you’d be there in the morning/ How could there be a night we haven’t shared?’ and they both sing: ‘How could this be the ending of our story/ I thought that love was won by those who dared.’ When this is reprised at the end when Jenny is dying it is almost unbearably poignant. The final reprise: ‘What Can You Say?’ bookends the show giving a very satisfying sense of completion.

The word ‘define’ crops up frequently, and appropriately for a lawyer, but it indicates so much more, for the musical itself offers a definition of love. And when Jenny sings: ‘I’ve found out what love’s about/ It isn’t what you feel, it’s what you do’, you know that you’ve reached the emotional heart of the story and you go home resolving to hold your loved ones ever closer.

When Love Story transfers to the West End and beyond, this tender, funny, heart-warming musical will cast you too under its spell.

For an Interview with Stephen Clark see Show Updates January 2011

Love Story photos by Manuel Harlan


Oliver Barrett IV Michael Xavier
Jenny Cavilleri Emma Williams
Phil Cavilleri Peter Polycarpou
Oliver Barrett III Rob Edwards
Alison Barrett Claire Carrie
Matt Jos Slovick
Doctor/Tony, a flower seller Keiron Crook
Dr Ackerman Simeon Truby
Waitress/Secretary Lillie Flynn
Jenny’s mother Julia Worsley


Original Book Erich Segal
Music Howard Goodall
Book and Lyrics Stephen Clark
Additional Lyrics Howard Goodall
Director Rachel Kavanaugh
Designer Peter McKintosh
Musical Staging Nick Winston
Lighting Designer Howard Harrison
Sound Designer Matt McKenzie
Musical Director Stephen Ridley
Orchestrations and Arrangements Howard Goodall
Casting Director Pippa Ailion