'Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody' review — a brainless good time
The Theater Center is a strange, intimate beast — home to both the longest-running play in New York and a house named in honor of stage legend Jerry Orbach, yet somehow totally nonexistent for anyone but confused tourists lured through its doors. The venue's operators are also among the co-defendants in a recent suit seeking to block the city's vaccination mandate for theaters — though, you'd never guess it from attending Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody, where a sole usher deserving of a Special Tony Award assiduously checked patron's tickets, masks, and vax cards all on her own. ("You somehow don't have masks on you in New York City?" she later yelled at a bare-faced couple who had somehow gotten past her, disdainfully tossing two masks towards their row.)
You are probably best arriving to Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody not entirely sober. Luckily, that's the ideal state to experience this show in anyway. Once you've made it inside, Love Actually? is wonderfully brainless fun, a deeply silly but highly enjoyable 90 minutes which at times has barely anything to do with the movie it's supposedly parodying, and is all the funnier for it.
Strange to say, but yes, two of the show's strongest running gags involve characters that do not appear in Richard Curtis's movie at all. Probably the highlight is "Down-Town Abbey," a deranged television host interviewing washed-up rocker Billy Mac, who begins one broadcast with: "The results are in: I have chlamydia!" then concludes by teasing: "Next up: Is the prime minister an octopus?" Second best is Mrs. Pepperpot, a sex-crazed Downing Street staffer who resembles Mrs. Doubtfire and desperately wants to sleep with Hugh Grant's prime minister, or at least show him "my panties are edible."
In terms of the actual direct parodying of Curtis's oddly enduring holiday favorite, it is less clear what writers Bob and Tobly McSmith are going for. The duo clearly did their research — one recurring bit has Liam Neeson constantly insisting he and his son watch Titanic together, a reference pulled from one of the movie's deleted scenes. Mostly the McSmiths rightly mock the movie's weird notions of romance and its male characters' persistently creepy behavior towards women — for instance, Colin Firth's love interest speaks mostly in "Ack Ack" noises, which is about as respectful as the movie's treatment of her. Some attempts at satirizing the movie's misogyny feel hazier, though, like renaming Alan Rickman's adulterous workplace obsession "Minge" and depicting her as a crazed sexpot.
The show's hard-working cast does most of the heavy lifting, playing a huge array of characters thanks to an insane number of quick-changes. Tony Tillman is the standout, though Joyah Spangler does briefly steal the show with "Laura Linney's Lament," which has Linney's character quite reasonably asking: "What am I doing in this film?"
By the way, most characters here simply take the name of the famous actors who played them in the movie, and the cast mostly just do impersonations of those actors. The prime minister is just Hugh Grant, the stuffy writer is simply called Colin Firth, etc. There is a refreshing straightforwardness to it all. The show makes an exception only for Alan Rickman as the cad husband, who is written and performed as Professor Severus Snape, cape and all. This feels mostly pointless until he reacts to his wife's discovery of the infidelity by yelling, "Obliviate!" which is far funnier than it has any right to be.
After that moment, the show pauses its antics to actually sit with Emma Thompson's devastation at her husband's betrayal. The McSmiths and director Tim Drucker seem to acknowledge that the original scene's moving insight into a loving marriage's essential fragility, combined with Emma Thompson's astonishing work, was simply above mockery even for this parody musical.
Mostly, though, "Obliviate!" is the level of humor we're working with here, and viewing Love Actually? purely on its own terms, it's hard not to consider it a success. The show isn't good exactly, but it is quick, dumb, and very, very fun. Right now, that's a welcome combination.
Photo credit: Joyah Spangler, Isaiah Hein, and Kayla Catan in Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody. (Photo by Russ Rowland)
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