Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Justin Love - Someone Always Goes First

Tyler Ledon and Adam Huss. All photos by Michael Lamont

Whenever a musical appears to be about one subject but actually has another much bigger message, I’m interested. When it also catches the tail of current trends and concerns issues that are part of our lives today, I’m not only interested, I’m excited….because the opportunity to move people’s prejudices and misconceptions through theater is huge.

That’s the beauty of Justin Love, the world premiere musical that has opened Celebration Theatre's 30th Anniversary Season. It isn’t just a story about whether or not a gay movie star will come out. It’s a story about whether or not someone has the courage to go first. And that’s an entirely different thing.

We all have situations in our lives where we either follow the crowd or decide to walk our own path. Sometimes the choice is easy and reaps great rewards, but often it is difficult, with consequences for the forerunner that can be costly. Even so, someone first made a formal declaration of independence, first refused to give up her seat on a bus, first marched for women’s suffrage, and first dared to imagine writing music could create a world without war.

Someone makes a decision every day that inspires change and rewrites the course of history, and when a new musical like Justin Love comes along that explores what it’s like to go first - no matter what the arena - it matters. That’s why the moral of this story is even more powerful than the sum of its terrific parts.

David Elzer teams up with Patricia Cotter (The Break-Up Notebook, Mulan, Jr.) to co-write a savvy and sophisticated book full of smart one-liners and charming down-to-earth dialogue based on a story he originally created with Bret Calder. The contemporary score, described by my guest as a little like Next To Normal, features lyrics by Lori Scarlett (The Break-Up Notebook, F**king Hipsters!) and music by Scarlett and David Manning. Add the sleek directorial vision of Michael Matthews, musical direction by Gregory Nabours, and choreography by Janet Roston, and you’ve got the makings of a new modern classic. For everyone who needs an extra shot of courage to go first...this one’s for you.

Life is great for Justin Rush (Adam Huss), Hollywood biggest movie star. He has a beautiful wife, Amanda (Carrie St. Louis), a million dollar home overlooking the city, and all the fame, glamour, and money that comes with reaching the pinnacle of success. He also has a secret. He’s gay. And that’s a secret he’s been careful to hide. Enter Chris Andrews (Tyler Ledon), a young gay writer fresh off the bus from Michigan, the “Rust Belt” of the Midwest, whose good-guy optimism is immediately pegged by his declaration that Los Angeles smells like “oranges and hope.” (You gotta love a boy like that.)

Carrie St. Louis and Ciarán McCarthy

Chris lands a job in Justin’s publicist’s (Alet Taylor) office and, as in any true Hollywood romantic comedy, the two meet cute on the red carpet, lock eyes, and we instantly know that life is about to get a lot more complicated. An old high school buddy of Amanda’s (Ciarán McCarthy), who now works for TMZ, becomes another complication and between the starry-eyed opening of the musical and the final curtain, you can count on plenty of laughs, mistaken happenings, and more than enough plot twists to keep you rooting for our hero until the very end.

Ledon and Huss handle the romantic leading roles with believability. Ledon is a genuine sweetheart as Chris and Huss has only to flash his pearly whites to make many a man and woman in the audience swoon. Likewise, St. Louis and McCarthy are a likeable couple who must wrestle with their dueling realities. Taylor gives a showstopping performance as Justin’s publicist, consuming everything in her path like a neurotic, foul-mouthed tornado barely able to hang on to her last nerve. She needs valium a lot more than she does the mini-donuts hidden in her desk and when she explodes on songs like “Don’t Shit Where You Eat” you’ll literally be laughing out loud at her hilarious intensity.

The cast of Justin Love

Stephen Gifford’s hip scenic design surrounds the audience with movie screen panels that riff off a Hollywood mover-and-shaker vibe assisted by Tim Swiss’ lighting and Jason H. Thompson’s projections. The effect is striking, almost overwhelmingly so, in Celebration’s intimate space. But that too is fitting given that the musical references the larger than life world as seen through the eyes of the silver screen. In the end, Justin Love is more than simply a musical entertainment about a movie star who may or may not come out to his public. It’s a story about embracing your truth, making your own happiness, and come hell or high water, knowing when you're being called to go first. 

"Someone goes first
Someone always goes first
Puts himself on the line
To see injustice reversed
Someone stands firm
Someone stays strong
Someone keeps going

Until the world comes along
Someone lays the groundwork
Someone plants the seed
So something can grow
Someone has to go first
And if you can go first
You should go."

[Lyrics by Lori Scarlett]

Justin Love, now extended through December 16, 2012 at Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd (1/2 block east of La Brea) in Hollywood. For tickets, please call (323) 957-1884 or visit www.celebrationtheatre.com.

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