By BRUCE DENNILL
Loving You, at the Auto And General Theatre On The Square, is an exploration of love and relationships through the loves songs of musicals new and old. It stars Sharon Spiegel-Wagner, Lori Glaschen, Musanete Sakupwanya and Lance Maron and is directed by Drew Bakker, who also accompanies the singers on the piano.
The first version of this show, Love Stage – A Love Story Through The Musicals, premiered at Redfest in October last year. It was already positioned as more than a revue by the inclusion of a recorded narrative, sharing the love story of an old lady looking back at her life. You came up with the idea: what was the original concept? What did you want to offer, beyond great music performed beautifully?
I can’t take full credit for the idea. We were brainstorming in session and it came up and I just knew that was the right convention for linking up the musical love stories. Love is something we all feel but each of us has a different love story and I just imagined hearing all kinds of different people talk about love. Initially, for Redfest, I selected one old lady who’d just lost her husband. I knew her love story was special because every time I saw her with her husband they were holding hands. They were happily married for the best part of 65 years and in this day and age, with divorce being so common, I find that truly extraordinary. This time around, for the show in the theatre, I decided to search for more than one person and even interview some youngsters. It’s amazing how many different languages we speak while one language we all understand is love. Why Broadway love songs? Because for me, drama, music and singing is my way of expressing pure love. And I found a bunch of people who feel the same so I roped them in!
That show featured three singers. The new version, now titled Loving You, has four. That show featured a single narrator; this one offers a number of different commentators, talking about love and relationships and the complexity of both. What was the thinking behind theses changes?
Sometimes less is more, but in this case the addition of more singers and more voices only heightens the emotional element of the love stories we tell. Also, the cast has some serious musical chops, so we could also include some truly beautiful harmonies and arrangements by Drew, our maestro on the piano.
How did the changes affect the dynamics of the production? By definition, the piece becomes more sophisticated: a bigger cast means more perspectives can be included and explored, and more intricate arrangements can be dreamed up and performed.
It provides different perspectives on the same thing, which creates room for different audience members to relate to what their journey with love has been. And yes, more musicians means more things to play with musically and theatrically.
How much of an overlap is there between the song choices from Love Stage and those in Loving You?
There is very little overlap. It’s funny. This idea started in my mind. I’m fascinated by love and relationships and obsessed with musical theatre. The original plan in my head was a two-hander, a boy and a girl, and someone on keys. Lorri and I have performed together before and have become close friends – we became moms together – and she told me that she really wanted to perform with me. She’ll laugh when she reads this, but initially I wasn’t thinking about her joining me. But she was adamant and passionate about getting something going and she’s been a huge catalyst for this show reaching this point. Talent aside, she’s a real pro and sings like a dream. But we still needed a boy. At Redfest, we started off as a threesome – pardon the innuendo – with the very handsome Mauritz Badenhorst and the beautiful Maryke Johnson on keys. So Love Stage was created around that formula and Loving You caters for the new additions – singers Lance and Musa and the highly skilled Drew Bakker on keys. So we kind of started from scratch. Kinda crazy right? But love makes you do crazy things.
How much of the song choice had to do with the new singers featured this time around – Musanete and Lance?
Both these men are full of heart and joy, which is what is required for this. And they are true gentlemen. Lance brings a powerful sophistication and vulnerability that’s unique to him and Musa has charisma and charm for days. Musa is jazz trained, so we had to provide something for his love to be accurately expressed and Lorri and I find ourselves melting to the floor when he opens his mouth. And Lance’s quintessential leading man vocals provide the classic romantic touch to it all, and we could cater to his strengths as an artist. We couldn’t enforce what was done last year, on those individuals, in this version. This is about love and musical love stories, so it will always change according to what love stories the artists want to share and can perform best according to their individual skill sets.
When it comes to arrangements, how are you striking a balance between connecting strongly with audiences who will likely have a favourite – and mainstream – version of some of the songs and creating something that is artistically pleasing for them to hear and exciting for you to perform?
Look, if I’m honest, all of us on stage made a pact not to do all the same old stuff. There is always a place for the crowd-pleasers, and we have loads of that, but you have to introduce what’s on trend to an audience, otherwise we will never move forward in terms of global nuances and requirements. My priority in this was to do new stuff from musicals that are on Broadway and the West End today. It’s time to hear new stuff and explore new ways of telling stories!
How much of a compromise is required to get that balance right?
So. Much. Compromise. So. So. So much. We’ve spent days debating, almost driving each other dilly trying to find this balance. We tried to focus on variation – different tempos and different styles. We ticked a lot of boxes, but you can’t do every single love song in just over an hour! What we do, though, we do very well.
Is this model more or less eternally tweakable, given the richness of both the theme – love – and the size of the musical catalogue to choose from? Can we hope to see more of the show in the future, as a developing platform for new singers and ideas?
I do hope so. After all, love never dies – another musical! – so maybe this is still evolving.