Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody Is a Rom-Com Roasting on an Open Fire
The 2003 British Christmas film starred Hugh Grant and Keira Knightley.
How do Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson's characters know each other? Is that grand gesture with the signs really the end of a secret love affair with Keira Knightley, or just the beginning? Is Colin's adventure in Wisconsin all a hallucination? And why is that French lady so mean? So many questions remain unanswered after my umpteenth viewing of the modern holiday classic Love, Actually, which is now being skewered to perfection by musical-comedy terrorists Bob and Tobly McSmith in Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody at the Jerry Orbach Theater. The show didn't answer any of my questions, but it did give me something to laugh about — laughter sure to return upon my next viewing.
The McSmiths are the mad geniuses behind The Office! A Musical Parody, Friends! The Musical Parody, and my personal favorite, Showgirls! The Musical! Their musical mash-up of Cats and reality TV earned them a cease-and-desist letter from Andrew Lloyd Webber, which makes them about as punk rock as you can get off-Broadway.
For Love Actually?, the McSmiths have teamed up with British composer Basil Winterbottom, who is almost certainly not a real person. Fictional or not, his sound-alike spoofs are truly funny, covering a vast musical range, from Sondheim to Dido. Winterbottom perfectly musicalizes that moment when you retreat to your bedroom for a quiet British cry, only to have Joni Mitchell show up with a feelings laxative made of poetic non sequiturs.
For the unfamiliar, Love, Actually is a 2003 romantic comedy set in London at Christmastime. Interconnected plots and characters help the charming young prime minister (played by Hugh Grant) prove to us that love actually is all around.
Here, Hugh (Eric Peters) is the "prime minister of rom coms" (the characters generally go by the names of the actors who played them in the film). His sister, Emma (Joyah Spangler), is married to Professor Snape (Daniel Hayward), who is thinking of committing adultery with his naughty secretary, Minge (Kayla Catan). Walking Dead Guy (also Peters) would like to sleep with Keira (also Catan), but she has just married his best friend (Tony Tillman). Having discovered that his wife is cheating on him with his brother, Colin (James Parks) retreats to the south of France, where he meets Areola (also Catan), a beautiful housekeeper who only speaks fake Portuguese. But the language of love is universal, as we soon learn.
The McSmiths have smartly condensed the entirety of the 136-minute film into a cool 90 minutes. Tim Drucker's efficient staging flies like Santa over Saudi Arabia, leaving the ever-changing performers dripping in sweat by the end. Believe it or not, there are only six actors and two swings in the cast.
Their hilariously heightened performances keep us in hysterics. Catan makes us cock our heads and think, Yeah, Keira Knightley really does smile like that. Hayward fidgets magnificently as Billy Mac, the washed-up rocker attempting to repackage his hit song "I Love Cocaine" as "I Love Christmas." But Tony Tillman beats him in terms of weirdness as British VJ Downtown Abby. In fact, Tillman dazzles in a part that calls on him to play every black person in the UK: At one point, he flawlessly executes a daring triple wig reveal.
Those wigs (smartly styled by Dustin Cross) are the essential design item in the show, helping us to distinguish between multiple characters for each actor. They're also funny in their own right: Keira, what was up with those side bangs? Ryan Howell's set (featuring a backdrop that includes a phone box, a tube entrance, and St. Paul's Cathedral) gives us a glaringly obvious sense of place, while Weston G. Wetzel's lighting helps Drucker to create cinematic jump cuts onstage.
I still love Love, Actually, but I laughed all the way through this riotous send-up that proves love actually is all around — and it's f-n ridiculous.