nytheatre.com review by Emily Otto
September 27, 2007
It would be misleading to call Love Sucks a true adaptation of William Shakespeare's Love's Labor's Lost. It would also be misleading to refer to this new musical as an authentic punk experience: it is, after all, a musical. That said, this production giddily gives the finger to anyone who cares about either of these things. It's loud, it's fast, it's tongue-in-cheek, and it's a hell of a lot of fun. And really, what could be more punk rock than that?
Set in the gritty East Village of the 1970s, Love Sucks follows the stories of two different punk bands: the all-guy Molotovs and the all-girl Guttersnipes. The musical uses only the most basic premise of Shakespeare's play: its characters have sworn off love, only to promptly fall in it. Each band has a hard-and-fast rule that none of its members is allowed to sleep with anyone more than three times, since they feel that relationships are destructive to their music. When the two bands encounter each other at a battle-of-the-bands contest, they're smitten with their opposite-sex counterparts, except for the two lead singers, Big Joe and Patti, who can't stand each other. The other three couples all begin covert relationships while trying to set up Big Joe and Patti, whose mutual nastiness turns out to be, naturally, a cover-up for unbridled lust. Hijinks ensue, and all parties eventually learn how to be in love and be badass punk musicians.
One of the most effective elements of this production is the fact that all eight of the lead actors are bona fide instrumentalists as well as able actors and powerful singers. Their program bios show that nearly all of them play in real bands, write music, or do both. The songs in the production are divided between band performances and songs that take place within scenes, and the actors switch from featured performers to utility accompanists with ease and skill, adding to the legitimacy of the production.
The music itself ranges from tuneful punk to sappy pop ballads, the running joke being that when characters allow themselves to be vulnerable to love, their music sweetens up and goes soft. The gag works, and allows the performers to show a range of styles despite the conceit of a punk musical. Make no mistake, though: when the music's loud, it's very loud, and the actors throw themselves (and a bevy of props) around the stage with wild abandon. Nicholas Webb, as the dour, short-tempered Big Joe, is particularly hilarious, with a loose, improvisational acting style that commands the stage in all of his scenes, as well as in the Molotovs performances, where he appears to be channeling the limbs-akimbo intensity of Joey Ramone. The four women of the Guttersnipes (Rebecca Hart, Caryn Havlik, Athena Reich, and Heather Robb) also ooze with feisty energy, backed by their fierce musical dexterity.
Director Andy Goldberg has offered lively, active staging that drives the pace effectively. Future productions might benefit from a club setting, preferably with drinks; right now, the rowdy atmosphere of the show stands a bit at odds with the stuffiness of the proscenium stage. Creators Stephen O'Rourke and Brandon Patton have a firecracker on their hands here; this is a show that can appeal equally to musical theatre aficionados and people who hate show tunes. While I'm well aware that it's definitely not punk rock to refer to this production as "fabulous," I'll do it anyway. Love Sucks is a blast, and the show deserves a bright future beyond NYMF.