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This review by Joan Crespi was prepared for the February 18, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama Review: `What About Luv?’

`What about Luv?" is the zany, entertaining musical now playing at

Hopewell’s Off-Broadstreet Theater to Sunday, March 21. The farcical

three-character show, accompanied by a three-piece band, is based on

the Broadway play "Luv" by Murray Schisgal. It won a Tony for Best

Play in 1965. Here Robert Thick directed and designed the single set,

a stretch of bridge struts bookended at stage sides by panels of

building silhouettes suggesting New York City. The entire wacky

musical takes place in the present on the bridge over a river (the

East River?) or in the landed foreground. Kenneth P. Howard, at the

piano, is musical director. The book is by Jeffrey Sweet, music by

Howard Marren, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead.

In its evolution to its present title, the material boasts some

illustrious players. Made into a 1967 movie, "Luv" starred Jack Lemon,

Peter Falk, and Elaine May. Under the title "Love" and by then a

musical, the show opened in New York in 1984, starring Nathan Lane as

Harry. In 1986 the musical had a long run in London under the title

"What about Luv?" It became a huge hit in Tokyo, Japan.

A despairing Harry Berlin, "at the end of my rope" (Curt Herr),

dressed as if by the Salvation Army in a pale green suit jacket and

drawstring pants is about to jump from the bridge into the river when

he is hailed and stopped by Milt Manville (Ed Teti). Milt wears a

snazzy blue pinstripe suit. He earns six figures. He’s one of life’s

winners. Or is he?

Harry and Milt knew each other years earlier at Poly Arts U. But the

world isn’t school, these middle-agers have learned. They argue over

who had the worst childhood. Harry exhibits some masterful twitching,

then becomes paralyzed, then loses his power of sight and hearing. He

is magically cured by one spoken word "love." The musical gets going

when Milt reveals in song (there are 24 of them) that he believes in

love. But not that of his wife, Ellen. He loves Linda. Ellen refuses

to divorce him. Bringing together Harry and Ellen (Lois Carr) who

appears on the bridge, could be a way out of Milt’s marriage.

Harry refuses to meet Ellen. She’s a staunch, strong,

knows-her-own-formidable-mind woman clad in a red silken pants suit

and long mink coat, a no-nonsense woman with a homebody streak who

unfurls a chart before Milt of the precipitous decline in the number

of their sexual encounters.

Harry, who hides his head in a brown paper bag, relents and meets

Ellen. Now the two them (yep!) debate who had the worst childhood.

Ellen reveals that men avoid her because of her power, wit, and

intellect. What she wants is to become a good wife and mother. She

believes in marriage, she sings, and pretends to try suicide with a

knife, when Harry now stops her, asking, "What about love?"

The variety of acting and dance styles range from the comically

exaggerated, stylized gestures of melodrama to flamboyant ballroom

dancing to bumps and grinds to chorus line musical routines. Ellen’s

expressive, rolling eyes underscore her feelings. On opening night

some of the singing voices, weak in the beginning, grew more robust

and powerful as the show continued.

The book’s lines touch on the existential – "Is there no purpose, no

reason?" asks Ellen. The show answers, making a case for the curative

powers of love. (And not just for twitching, momentary paralysis, or

passing loss of hearing and sight.) Ellen and Harry, both would-be

suicides, rescue each other. This wise woman finds "hope under scar

tissue." She seals the commitment by putting Harry’s hand on her

breast. Harry dances wildly. (That, and Ellen’s untying and pulling

down Harry’s pants, revealing his shorts, is about as sexy as this

show gets. Even figuring in the gasps reminiscent of "When Harry Met

Sally.")

Ellen wishes there were some way to test their love. There is, and

both find some surprising, outrageous ways to do it.

A year elapses. Both Ellen and Milt, back at the bridge to reminisce,

are disillusioned and wiser. Their stories come full circle. They

still believe in love. And marriage. And money. So does Harry, who

finally trashes his paper bag to face the world.

First produced in 1964, the 40-year-old material shows its age. Women

today would be indignant at the idea that they must squelch their

intellect, that they want simply to become a wife and mother. But

don’t think too deeply. The show is light and cute and the production

active, fast, tuneful, and snappy. So laugh and enjoy. The audience on

opening night "luved" it.

– Joan Crespi

What About Luv?, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue,

Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $22.50 & $24. To Saturday, March 20.


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