When my colleague Michayla and I saw an ad for Love Actually LIVE at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts while flipping through a Quack program at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, we basically screamed with delight. For the Record, a production company famous for theatrically highlighting the soundtrack magic of some of the world’s greatest film directors, had decided to hybrid viewing one of the most delightful (so bad it’s good) iconic Christmas films of the past 20 years with musical theatre! Oh. Em. Gee! Love Actually is a film we ritually watch every year at Christmastime (and sometimes even not at Christmastime!). There was no way in hell we would miss out on this!
The programming at The Wallis seems to keep getting better and better every year. Even though this production is not exactly the definition of “high art,” The Wallis admins were not messing around when they strategically placed this into the season. They knew that come December, the LA audience, both young and old, would turn up for a self-proclaimed iconic Christmas movie montage masterpiece. Heck, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were sitting three rows ahead of us. I mean, the man probably knows over half of the original film cast personally, but still! The show has broken ticket sale records for the venue to date.
This show was just a little different from the typical For the Record model. This performance is essentially a viewing of the film, but edited down to the most key moments intertwined with actors singing songs from the original soundtrack and a few more inspired by the movie. As you watch a scene on one of the multiple screens choreographed to move in and out of the action, actors complete the moment with songs we know and love from the film and beyond. Sure, it gets a little corny, but we already expected and accepted that because we know how corny the film is. The film where lobsters and octopi are included as a part of the nativity for an elementary school Christmas pageant, remember? Music-wise the band is absolutely phenomenal and there were definitely some incredible pipes up on that stage. Not to mention…
Tony Award winner for best actor in a musical for the role he originated in Once, Steve Kazee plays the Colin Firth character, Jaime. Similar to when I watched one of my greatest theatre inspirations and Tony Award winner John Lloyd Young in For the Record’s Scorsese: American Requiem, (also featured at The Wallis)...it was just a little bit heartbreaking. Somehow, For the Record is able to lock down some pretty incredible Broadway stars for their screen to stage adaptations. But you can see it on Kazee’s face...he’s out of place. He is a true champion of the American theatre and we know he is meant for much more substantial, transformative theatre. Don’t get me wrong, the production quality is there, but the content falls short of the life-changing art this man is capable of. He just can’t make that kind of magic with the audience flip-flopping between the film footage and him trying to interpret that same scene to the tune of a 90s Dido ballad. You can see it in his eyes that he’s a little depressed. I genuinely felt sorry for him and wanted to give him a backstage hug and tell him that everything would be ok and that he would be reinstated to his true level of greatness…hopefully in 2019. We’ve got this Steve. Seriously, we have to keep reminding ourselves that even when things look grim, we are capable of greatness.
Anyway, if you’re a fan of the film, this larger than life theatre-meets-cinema experience will definitely get you into the Christmas spirit. It’s everything you love from the film, and then some. Sure it’s as hokey as the film at times, but that’s why we love it in the first place, right? For the Record’s world premiere of Love Actually LIVE runs at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts through December 31st. If you’ve never seen a piece by this company before, check it out. It’s a little bit like watching a live orchestra score a film at the Hollywood Bowl, but with a little more theatre magic. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like it.