The new 'Aspects' are a distinct improvement

August 28, 1992|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

"Love Changes Everything," proclaims the title of the most indelible song in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Aspects of Love." But it isn't love as much as a totally revamped production that has changed this 1989 musical.

And while not everything -- certainly not enough -- has changed, the new aspects of "Aspects" are definitely improvements.

Based on a novel by David Garnett, an associate of the Bloomsbury Group, "Aspects" chronicles the intertwined romances of two men and three women. It's a small-scale story that received a large-scale Broadway production, whose most overblown scenic effect was a wall that split apart, revealing a gash of blood-red light.

The wall is gone from director Robin Phillips' rendition, and so is ,, most of the color. Instead, designer Phillip Silver swathes the stage in sheer white curtains and allows a few pieces of white furniture to serve multiple purposes. In one scene, a chaise longue doubles as a train seat; in another, a few table-top umbrellas suggest a sidewalk cafe.

The reason this works so well is that the curtains convey the

impression of both the boudoir and the stage, reinforcing the two major thematic threads of the story -- love and art. One of "Aspects'" continuing problems is that, despite a score of soaring love songs, the characters seem to lack passion (a condition frequently reflected in Don Black and Charles Hart's pedestrian lyrics). However, the new physical production succeeds by emphasizing the artifice of the characters -- the notion that they are playing roles. The result is that though we still don't care about these people, we at least begin to understand them.

And who are they? Well, there's Alex, who's infatuated with an older actress named Rose. She, however, falls in love with Alex's distinguished uncle, George. Meanwhile, George is in the midst of a long-term dalliance with a sculptress named Giulietta. George marries Rose, but no matter, since Rose and Giulietta embark on a dalliance of their own. Moving ahead a decade or so, George and Rose's teen-age daughter Jenny falls for Alex, but Alex suddenly seems taken with Giulietta. To make a long story short, it's nobody's definition of family values.

With the exception of Lori Alter, who, as Jenny, sings in a chalkboard squeaky soprano, the principals -- including spirited Linda Balgord and sophisticated Kelli James Chase -- are accomplished singers. And they try their best to project empathetic emotions onto self-absorbed characters. The most successful is Barrie Ingham, who, as George, gets to convey one of the script's only natural emotions -- paternal affection -- and does it in the show's loveliest song, "The First Man You Remember." The least successful is Ron Bohmer -- an unrelentingly petulant Alex who expresses passion by raising his arms and belting, "Love Changes Everything."

The original "Aspects" ran less than a year in New York; it was Lloyd Webber's sole Broadway flop. This production will undoubtedly make up for that. When tickets went on sale at the Kennedy Center, the box office reported the second highest first-day total in its history. Despite all his good work, director Phillips may not have found the heart in "Aspects," but he seems xTC to have discovered the dollar signs.

'Aspects of Love'

When: Tuesdays to Sundays at 8 p.m.; matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Through Sept. 27.

Where: Kennedy Center, Washington.

Tickets: $27.50-$55.

Call: (800) 444-1324.

** 1/2

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