Review: "Love Actually Live" at the Wallis

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Jill Weinlein

  • Chief Los Angeles Critic

For an enchanting holiday experience that will have you clapping and singing in your seats, “Love Actually Live” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts will lift your spirits.

As soon as the show opened on December 4, it started getting a favorable buzz. Celebrities Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson sat in the row in front of my daughter and me, as we watched 16 talented musicians and the all-star cast perform. The show begins with a bang as the ensemble march down the stairs and appear next to audience members singing “Love Actually Is All Around.”

Adapted and directed by Anderson Davis and co-produced by the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts Shane Scheel and Siobhan O’Neill, they creatively took the Richard Curtis holiday cult favorite movie “Love Actually” and turned it into an experimental world-premiere musical production.

Davis, a big fan of the movie’s soundtrack, directs the live orchestra and singers to mirror the scenes of the movie, as it plays on three different screens onstage. It’s a new way for people to experience a fusion of theatre and film.

Matthew Steinbrenner’s stage looks similar to SNL’s holiday set with musicians onstage and a Christmas tree in the center. This tree takes on a personality, thanks to lighting designer Michael Berger choreographing color and movement throughout the 2 hour and 40 minute production.

Sets come down and walls are pulled towards the center to become cinema screens, while video designer Aaron Rhone displays a collage of people in love, as well as images of a church, London Bridge, park, and other locales featured in the motion picture.

One of the stars in the show is the talented Rumer Willis. She can belt out her numbers just as good as some of the other Broadway, Tony and Grammy award-winning singers. Especially when she portrays the sultry Mia, Willis struts her stuff displaying her “Dancing with the Stars” Season 20 winning moves.

Another stand out singer is Carrie Manolakos as the character Natalie, and Tomasina Abate as Emma Thompson’s character Karen in the deeply moving Joni Mitchell “Both Sides Now” number.

The ladies are more memorable and distinctive than the males in the cast. It’s hard for the actors to compete with International movie stars Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Andrew Lincoln, Bill Nighy, and Alan Rickman. As a result, many times I found myself watching the stars on the screen, more than the ones on stage.

One who did catch my eye was Sean Yves Lessard as Hugh Grant’s character the Prime Minister David. He wow’d the audience with his exaggerated dancing and back flips in the “Jump (For My Love)” number.

This movie made many of actors in the film overnight sensations, including Bill Nighy as Billy Mack. In this show, International platinum recording artist Rex Smith as Billy Mack is a show stealer. He mimics Nighy’s mannerisms and vocal intonations singing “Christmas Is All Around” that has the audience giggling and cheering in the end.

Davis was clever in directing two musicians to portray John and Judy the professional body doubles who meet for the sex scenes in a film. He choreographs their stance and movement tastefully as they ran from their seats onstage and in the orchestra pit to perform onstage.

Love Actually Live” connects the heartwarming and heartbreaking stories of love, betrayal and romance with actor Steve Kazee (Broadway’s Once: The Musical), Kelley Jakle (Pitch Perfect), Rex Smith (RIAA Gold® recording artist), Grammy Award-nominee B. Slade, Carrie Manolakos (Broadway’s Mamma Mia!, Wicked), Justin Sargent (NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert), Zak Resnick (Broadway’s Mamma Mia!, Fox’s “American Idol”), Doug Kreeger (Broadway’s Les Misérables), Olivia Kuper Harris (Postmodern Jukebox), Tomasina Abate, Sean Yves Lessard, Cairo McGee, Glory Curda, Tom Zmuda, Alex Csillag, Megan Shung, Carson Higgins and Emily Lopez.

Performances are from December 4 - 31, 2018 at 7:30 p.m., with one intermission. Weekend performances are at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. There is no performance on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. This show contains some adult content and brief nudity. It is recommended for ages 13+. Tickets are $39 to $125. For tickets go to http://thewallis.org 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90210.