Love is the Answer is the only musical selected for Vista’s Broadway Theater’s 2015 W.I.P. (Works in Progress) shows. Theatregoers are so interested in the new production that the remaining dates are completely sold out.
At a carnival, an optimistic romantic, Billy (Edgar Diaz-Gutierrez), falls for the innocent eco-conscious Adella (Kay Marian McNellen). Even though the two develop feelings for each other, Adella is dating a scummy jerk, Steve (M. Keala Milles, Jr.), who she feels indebted to because he once helped her mom.
The pop-rock show follows a classic romantic formula, which works since the two main characters are worth caring about. Diaz-Gutierrez and McNellen have genuine chemistry onstage together, especially as their relationship strengthens throughout the evening.
Occasionally dialogue is used, but writer and director, Gregg Brandalise’s script is mainly sung-through. Brandalise’s 17 musical numbers have a 1980’s style with several power ballads and tunes that feel influenced by bands such as Toto and Starship. His melodies are often instantly catchy with memorable choruses.
Brandalise tells the plot in a straightforward way with little in the way of cynicism or snark. His writing is reminiscent of Grease in terms of being a tribute to romance.
As a director, Brandalise tries not to draw attention away from the actors. However, certain sequences have an enchanting quality especially in the big fantasy number, “Voodoo You.” His staging has a dreamlike energy and Victoria Mahdion’s spooky choreography is not too far removed from Henry Selick’s animated classic, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
In terms of improvements that can be made, the first part of the production has a lot of melodies that focus too much on romance. That might sound like a weird criticism for a theatrical piece called Love is the Answer, but even musicals such as West Side Story, The Last 5 Years and The Light in the Piazza make time for other kinds of songs ranging from comedy numbers to character building solos.
This is not to suggest that Brandalise should delete any of the high-spirited songs. At a running time of about an hour and 40 minutes, he can add more material to the book. Perhaps Brandalise can write another song or two that revolve around Adella’s passion for the environment or Billy’s hobby of playing the guitar.
On opening night, certain technical elements got in the way of the performers. Brandalise and Tommy Eyler’s lighting seemed to miss certain cues, making several moments visually darker than intended.
The lighting issues were pretty minor compared to the prerecorded music from Eyler, under Brandalise’s musical direction. Lyrics were hard to understand, for the loud amplification sometimes drowned out the vocals from the cast. Hopefully, the audio can be lowered in the remaining performances.
Still, there is no denying that Brandalise has created an earnest evening that features many standout songs. He should continue to fine tune his libretto and look for other companies to produce his engaging love story.