Joy Franz and Marissa McGowan in Love According to Luc(Photo © Melanie Shatzsky)
Joy Franz and Marissa McGowan in Love According to Luc
(Photo © Melanie Shatzsky)
Love According to Luc is bursting with potential. The new pop- and gospel- inflected musical by Alicia Mathewson has a compelling storyline. It's a complex treatment of socially relevant issues and it features a powerful performance by Marissa McGowan in the title role. Unfortunately, the show is also beset by a number of problems that make it seem more like a very promising workshop production than a fully realized musical.

Love According to Luc centers on Lucretia "Luc" Crowell, a young seminarian at Harvard Divinity School. Raised by her aunt Mary (Joy Franz), who is the pastor at her local church, Luc feels sure of her calling. Her devotion to God is only made deeper when she falls in love with Jane (Catherine Hesse), a young academic who's working on a dissertation on Sophia, the feminine side of God. However, Luc's lesbian relationship puts her in direct conflict with the Presbyterian Church in which she was raised, which teaches that gays and lesbians should be loved and accepted into the church but not ordained into the ministry.

The musical successfully wrestles with some of the thornier issues of religion and homosexuality. In particular, it deals with the difficult question of why lesbians and gay men continue to want to participate in and serve institutions that exclude and often persecute them. A number of perspectives are aired, from a stereotypical conservative viewpoint to the struggle of a progressive pastor to come to terms with her niece's budding sexuality and political worldview to Luc's internal turmoil and crisis of faith, which finds its purest expression in the heartfelt song "Am I Not Enough?"

McGowan perfectly captures the freshness and innocence of her character, as well as the anger and confusion that she experiences as she begins to doubt herself, her faith, and her calling. She's also blessed with a gorgeous voice of great emotional and musical range. As Luc's love interest, Hesse is better in the dramatic scenes than the comic ones. Unfortunately, her first song -- a comic number titled "What Was I Thinking?" -- falls flat because Hesse tries too hard to be funny and her timing is off, but she makes up for it in the sprightly, seductive Jane-Luc duet "Attitude." While this song also has a comic side, its soft, moving final moments really make it work.

The veteran Franz gives a strong performance as Mary although she does wander off pitch on occasion. Another dynamic presence is Uzo Aduba as Kia, a leader in the fight to get gays and lesbians ordained; the character refers to herself as "a black dyke with Jesus on my side." Her showcase number, "Psalm 139," is a knockout and certainly one of the more rousing tunes in Mathewson's score. The music is at its best when mimicking a gospel style, such as in "Psalm 139" and "Deliver Me." Several of the other songs fail to ignite; "Morning Rituals," for example sets up the first meeting between Luc and Jane but its tempo is too slow and its lyrics are uninspiring.

Director Stephen Tomac exacerbates and even causes some of the show's flaws; he allows the pace to slacken at several points and he never fully takes advantage of the set, attractively designed by Ryan Scott. A raised platform that resembles a dais might have been used to create a number of interesting stage pictures; instead, Tomac opts to place a disproportionate amount of the action down front, with characters literally stepping out of scenes to deliver their songs and speeches to the audience. While the show does not call for huge, Broadway-style production numbers, a little more pep and bounce could have kept it from seeming so stilted. Transitions between scenes would be aided by a greater sense of flow and a more inventive choreographic approach by Wendy Seyb would give some variety to the musical staging.

Michelle Rios, Uzo Aduba, Veronica Mittenzwei,Myorah B. Middleton, and Meara McIntyrein Love According to Luc(Photo © Melanie Shatzsky)
Michelle Rios, Uzo Aduba, Veronica Mittenzwei,
Myorah B. Middleton, and Meara McIntyre
in Love According to Luc
(Photo © Melanie Shatzsky)
The show is accompanied by a single piano played by musical director Allison Leyton-Brown. I'd be interested to hear how the score would sound if fully orchestrated, although one of the benefits of seeing Love According to Luc in a tiny theater is that the entire cast is unamplified. Their voices ring out clearly and none of them seem to need the technological assist found in nearly every other musical in the city. These eight women, several of whom play multiple roles, bring the show to life. Mathewson's score contains several powerful duets and trios for female voices, particularly "This God" (the first act closer, sung by Jane, Mary, and Luc) and "Without You" (a beautiful, melancholy song for Luc and Jane).

Clocking in at close to two and a half hours, the show could use some judicious pruning. It would also benefit from a clearer character arc for Luc; the audience needs to witness the strength of her calling early on in order to be fully invested in it later but the first scene shows her inept attempts to get through a simple Baptism. Luc doesn't seem to develop any strength at all until she meets Jane. While this follows the pattern of many coming out narratives, Mathewson has the basis for a very different kind of story in which Luc's devotion to God is at the forefront from the beginning. As the show now stands, it seems as if Luc discovers her calling through her lesbianism, and that choice doesn't quite work in terms of the show's overall structure.

Love According to Luc is a flawed but enjoyable theatrical experience. It doesn't have the polish of bare, another musical that deals with the intersection of faith and homosexuality; like that work, however, it strikes a resonant chord at a time when questions of religion are taking a more central place in contemporary gay discourse as evidenced by the movement towards gay marriage. The production is well timed to coincide with Gay Pride Month and will hopefully draw audiences interested in witnessing the development of a promising new voice in musical theater as she tackles issues relevant to the LGBT community.