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Alison Helmer and Taylor Pietz in Love Kills
We had a great weekend! The show was so incredibly strong every night and though the audiences were small-ish, they seemed to really love this show! One couple said it was the best thing they've seen at New Line! And so many folks really wanted to talk after the show. I think they needed to work through their conflicting feelings about Charlie and Caril. Which is exactly Kyle's point with this show.

And the reviews have begun to come in.... We weren't sure what people would think about this dark, angry, sad, wild show, and the reviews are suitably odd. Not our usual crazy raves, but all of them positive...

Gabe Hartwig reviewed us for the Post-Dispatch this time (so many shows opened this week that Judy had to delegate some reviews). The only negative things he had to say were about sound balance on a couple songs (which I think we've worked out now), and also that "at times the singing seems misplaced -- like when stern-faced Merle sweetly sings 'Someday' to Gertrude while seated at a table and barely looking up." But the latter complaint misses the point that what songs in musicals do best is soliloquy, in which the character reveals emotions that he would never reveal to the world. He doesn't look up at her because he is embarrassed by his emotion. Adult men in 1958 were supposed to be Gary Cooper, not pussies like Jim Stark...

The surface action in Love Kills is so dark and violent, and the emotional core of these characters is so vulnerable and often in contradiction to their actions; this disconnect may make some folks who are used to Guys and Dolls and Wicked uncomfortable. But that disconnect is also profoundly human and real. Merle can love deeply, and can be insecure about his wife's love, while also beating the shit out of Charlie to get him to confess. Most people are different on the inside from what they show the world. In the case of this show, I think audiences and/or reviewers may accept those contradictions from Charlie and Caril because they're supposed to "damaged" and "sick." But that contradiction is no less vital to understanding Merle and Gertrude. Merle's tenderness and emotion in "Someday" and "Hard Man" are so opposite his hard, cold exterior, but these moments set up the crack we see at the end in Merle's precious surety.

And that's great storytelling. Anything less complicated would do a disservice to these amazingly fucked-up, complex -- and let's not forget, real -- people.

Joe Pollack no longer reviews for KWMU, but he continues to review on his own blog, and he gave Love Kills a very positive review, but he did write one thing that bothered me, that "there is a banality to the lyrics that is off-putting." What Joe doesn't understand is that in modern musical theatre (unlike most shows of the so-called "Golden Age"), lyrics cannot be in the voice of the writer; they must be in the voice of the characters. And they cannot contain more insight or self-knowledge than the characters possess. Good theatre lyrics are no longer meant to dazzle or impress; they must fuse seamlessly with the script.

Storytelling comes first.

In the case of Love Kills, Charlie and Caril's lyrics may seem shallow and superficial because that's who these kids are, but if you listen closely, there are dozens of little references, turns of phrase, slight variations from one verse to the next that reveal these characters without them knowing it (as often happens in real life). If you pay close attention to Charlie's lyrics, they have the repetition that real rock lyrics have, but they also do the hard work of theatre songs -- it's just that that work is ten times more subtle and more artful here than it is in conventional Broadway dreck like Phantom of the Opera or Shrek or Mary Poppins, or even more extreme examples like the steaming piles of shit that are Spamalot and Young Frankenstein the Musical.

Love Kills doesn't offer up anything on a silver platter. You have to work for it. And that is what makes it great theatre.

About half the reviews are in so far, and at this point, Chris Gibson's thoughtful review on understands this show and our production most fully. He writes in his review, "Miller likes to color outside the lines, and his determination here reveals his passion for bringing fresh and challenging new musicals to the St. Louis region. This might be considered a risky choice, but I'm glad he and the company were willing to take it on, because I might not have gotten the chance to experience it otherwise." Thanks, Chris!

We knew this would be a tough show for folks because it really requires something of our audience, not just their attention but very complicated moral judgement that's just chock full of gray area. And believe me, our audiences are soooo tuned in every night, you can hear a pin drop in the audience from the first notes to the last. There are a lot of tense pauses in the show and the audience almost holds its collective breath during those moments. No one is flipping through their program or shifting in their seats. They are captive to this story and these characters.

The one really odd thing about this show, though, is that the audiences do not applaud the songs. Any of them. The first night, that worried us. But then we talked to folks afterward and they were just overwhelmed with emotion and totally engaged. Almost everyone just loves this show. But there's something about it that keeps them from interrupting the story the way we all do in every other musical -- and weirdly, it is somehow a collective decision the audience makes every night. I mentioned this to Kyle (the author) and he told me that this happened with other musicals he's written. For the life of me, I can't tell you why it works this way, but it has at all three performances. Maybe we'll figure it out before we close...

I could not be prouder of this show or this cast. I think the writing is exceptional in every way (even if it may be too subtle or unconventional for some reviewers) and the four performances from Phil, Taylor, Alison, and Zak are pitch-perfect. I can't imagine any other actors in town -- and I've worked with some of the best -- playing these characters. They tear my heart out every night.

Once again the theatre Gods have smiled on us.

Long Live the Musical!