Love, Always review

WINTER PARK — The annual Florida Festival Of New Musicals concludes today will a final reading of Love, Always, a musical about a man, a woman …. and a century of complex emotions and passions between the two.

The Festival of New Musicals, which kicked off on Thursday at the Winter Park Playhouse, premiered six musicals now in development, giving each one their first reading by a professional cast. In most instances, these shows had very large casts, and the audience was only able to watch the first hour, without being able to see the second act.

Love, Always is an exception.

What is the Musical Love, Always?

Love, Always is a collaboration between writer Bill Connington, who had an idea about a play that would show how love has — and in many ways, hasn’t — changed over the decades. The concept was fully embraced by composer Michael Cooper, who wrote the music and lyrics for the songs in this unique production. While several of the other shows at the festival boasted a large cast, Love,Always has a cast of just two performers: the man and the woman. It also stood out because the production is one hour long without intermission, so the audience got to see the entire show.

Love, Always opens with the man and woman (performed gloriously by Adam Biner and Mahalia Gronigan) talking about the possibility of taking their relationship to the next level; she is rather insistent, he seems coy. Most of what they experience is conveyed through the songs and lyrics, not dialogue, and almost immediately we shift back to the 1990s, and follow a nameless couple in that decade. For the rest of the show’s length, we continued going back in time, from the 1980s all the way back to the 1910s. The concept sounds ingenious, although as it continued to play out, it also felt puzzling.

One thing this show avoids is any references to events, cultural icons, or social attitudes from the past decades — nothing about what made the Roaring 20s, the Depression-era 1930s, or the generational shifts of the 1960s so impactful on the lives of Americans. Throughout each decade, the man and woman, clearly not meant to represent the same two we met at the start of the show, focus entirely on the challenges, joys, frustrations and heartaches of being in love.

If the show’s message is that couples have faced the same emotional entanglements from one decade to the next, that comes across; but I wondered why so little was done to differentiate each decade. Even the songs seem to fall into a similar style of music, and only slightly reflective of musical trends from each decade. For me, it started to feel more like a concept than a story we could fully embrace.

What Was The Audience Reaction to the Show?

During the 15-minute talk back session after the performance, several members of the audience made similar suggestions and asked why the show’s writers couldn’t provide even tiny snippets of dialogue or musical interludes reflecting each past decade.

Roy Alan, the artistic director of the Playhouse, brought up another key point about this show’s development. Alan noted that he fell in love with the show and would love to bring it to the Playhouse for a full run — except that at one hour, the show is considerably shorter than their regular productions (which tend to run between 90 minutes and two hours.) Would the show work better if the authors extended it, he asked. For the most part, though, the audience seemed satisfied with the show’s length and the great pleasures it provided within that hour.

That includes some beautiful songs, and the effective way that Connington and Cooper convey such a wide range of emotions, through humor, pathos, sadness and euphoria. The authors got a major boost by the two Playhouse performers, who not only have spectacular singing voices but were able to express so much deeply felt sentiments, sensations and intensity through their expressions and body language. Both Biner and Gronigan look like the play for written specifically for them.

Today at 3 p.m. is your final chance to enjoy Love, Always.

Where Can You See These Shows?

The Winter Park Playhouse, 711 N. Orange Ave. in Winter Park, is hosting the annual Festival Of New Musicals through today. Tickets are $10 per show and a 6 show “Festival Fun Pack” is available for $50. To buy tickets or for more information call the box office 407-645-0145.

Today’s festival begins with an 11 a.m. reading of What Have They Done With Lolana Lamour.

That will be followed by The Golden Door at 1 p.m., Zach Hill & The Rocket Blaster Man Adventure at 3 p.m. and Love, Always at 5 p.m.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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