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THEATER REVIEW

In the end, everything's fine in 'Love'

December 03, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

"Love Sweet Love," which closed Sunday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts but will play the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza beginning Tuesday, requires a little patience. Brimming with tunes by the legendary songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, "Love" is essentially a glorified revue cobbled into a "plotted" musical by adapter C. Ben Wolfe, whose book bombards us with so many characters that it's difficult to figure out just who is who.

The opening scenes presume an emotional connection to the material that has yet to be established. As a result, the pathos is cloying and the camp seems obligatory -- at least at first. Stick around. Although this Theater League production, directed and choreographed by Sha Newman, needs a little tweaking on the front end, it pays off richly in the long run.

Set shortly before Valentine's Day, the action centers on a bevy of forlorn females, all nursing broken hearts. There's Chris (Kristen Howe), who rightly suspects that her husband, Mike (Keith Bearden), is cheating on her. Katherine (Kara Shaw), Mike's mistress, yearns for true love but is always hooking up with Mr. Wrong. After a bruising breakup, lonely Amy (Alaine Kashian) cruises Internet dating services searching for Mr. Right. On a more somber note, shellshocked Gwen (Dawnn Lewis) has just been widowed in a car accident that left her paralyzed.

These lovelorn lovelies are bolstered by gal pals Darla (Staci Wilson) and Tiffany (Mercy Malick), who keep their friends' spirits up while trolling the city's bars and coffeehouses for eligible men. Of course, there are some happy endings in store. Gwen finds new love with hunky Latin lover Julio (Daniel Lujan), while five-foot-nothing Amy hooks up with lanky Norman (Matthew Patrick Davis), a fellow basketball fan who looms over her like a giraffe over a ground squirrel. As for Chris and Katherine, they team up to give the philandering Mike his walking papers.

Steven Young's lighting, Thomas G. Marquez's costumes and Mark Cowburn's sound are glitzy perfection, while Bradley Kaye's vibrant, versatile sets swirl on and offstage without a hitch. Cleverly, the sports bar set is dominated by a massive widescreen, courtesy of Mark Ciglar's video design, on which everything from sporting events to animated karaoke lyrics are displayed.

A wily theater veteran, Newman has assembled a hugely talented troupe. Musical director Lloyd Cooper, who also did the orchestrations and arrangements, deserves high praise for the flawless blend of orchestra and voices.

But then, Bacharach's music and David's lyrics provide all and sundry with terrific source material. Tunes range from the familiar to the obscure. (You might not remember that the durable duo wrote "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" or the Carpenters' hit "Close to You.")

A quibble: The beautifully wistful "Message to Michael," rendered here by a lively karaoke trio, deserves a more thoughtful solo.

And "Wives and Lovers," which cautions "little girls" about letting their husbands see them in curlers for fear the horrified men will run off with other women, should be required listening in college sociology and women's studies courses. Hilariously sexist, the song is a barometer of just how much society has changed in a very few decades.

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'Love Sweet Love'

Where: Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks

When: . 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday

Ends: Sunday

Price: $40-$49

Contact: www.ticketmaster.com

Running time: 2 hours

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