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Review: 'Justin Love' a winning musical about love, self-identity

Critic's Choice

September 25, 2012|By David C. Nichols
  • Carrie St. Louis, from left, Ciaran McCarthy, Tyler Ledon, Adam Huss, Terrance Spencer and Grant Jordan in "Justin Love" at the Celebration Theatre.
Carrie St. Louis, from left, Ciaran McCarthy, Tyler Ledon, Adam Huss, Terrance… (Michael Lamont )

Tinseltown tunefully outs itself in “Justin Love,” triumphantly opening the Celebration Theatre’s 30th anniversary season. Though not without its still-gelling aspects, this witty, full-hearted musical fable about an idealistic Hollywood assistant and the A-Lister he un-closets is as endearing an item as any in the venue’s history.

For instance, the one adroit establishing number, “Hollywood Opening”: Michigan transplant Chris (amber-voiced Tyler Ledon) goes from arrival -- “It smells like oranges and hope” -- to West Hollywood pick-up by struggling Donovan (wry Terrance Spencer) to promotion by top publicist Buck Ralston (Alet Taylor, tremendous in a career-making turn).

Buck, who makes Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly seem like Mother Teresa, handles hot property Justin Rush (Adam Huss, suitably toothsome), who is seemingly well-married to starlet Amanda Bell (Carrie St. Louis, utterly charming). Factor in Mitch (stalwart Ciarán McCarthy), a tabloid photographer from Amanda’s girlhood; Donovan’s new boyfriend Syd (hilarious Grant Jordan); and red carpet fisticuffs from which Chris helps Justin flee the paparazzi. A satirically shrewd, ultimately touching fairy tale about love, loyalty and self-identity unreels.

Masterfully directed by Michael Matthews, smartly conducted by Gregory Nabours,  “Justin” gleefully sails around designer Stephen Gifford’s condo facade set (the fulcrum of a sensational design effort).

Lori Scarlett and David Manning’s score and Patricia Cotter and David Elzer’s libretto need further work (a duet for Chris and Amanda, fewer extraneous songs and cutesy topicalities,  “Someone Goes First” expanded as defining anthem). Ledon and Huss’ chemistry takes rather long to register.

Nevertheless, when the marvelous Taylor devours “Don’t … Where You Eat,” or the deft, plushly harmonizing ensemble tackles Janet Roston’s choreography (more, please) in showstoppers “The Superficial” and “When Your Love Is New,” we’re watching that rara avis: a gay-themed show that straight viewers can equally access. “Justin Love” is already a surefire Purple Circuit winner; with continued tweaks, it could easily go the mainstream distance.

“Justin Love,” Celebration Theatre, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 11. $34.99 (323) 957-1884. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. www.celebrationtheatre.com

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