Sometimes it’s nice to be forced out of your comfort zone.
Not in a million years would I have chosen to see a musical version of the 1970 movie “Love Story,” but due to circumstances beyond my control there I was in the audience at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre Sunday afternoon for the American premiere production of the show.
And guess what? It was good.
Better than good actually — moving and funny and charming and tuneful (qualities that I have never associated with the Ali MacGraw/Ryan O’Neal picture that caused such an inexplicable sensation 42 years ago).
The show debuted at the Chichester Festival in England two years ago — the composer Howard Goodall and book and lyric writer Stephen Clark are British — and then moved to London’s West End, where Walnut Street producing artistic director Bernard Havard saw it.
Unlike the recent and extravagant flop musical version of “Ghost” — which also started in England — “Love Story” was designed to be produced modestly and intimately on a rather simple set with an on-stage string quartet providing all of the musical accompaniment.
The result of what you might term under-production is a musical where the characters and the story of their doomed love is never overwhelmed by stage craft.
The opposites-attract relationship between a rich WASP and a spunky working class girl from Cranston, Rhode Island, is perfect for a simple stage presentation — the characters are established quickly and our advance knowledge that they will only have five years together gives a poignant undertone to each scene.
Of course, without a lot of production bells-and-whistles, the two leads have to be strong and Will Reynolds and Alexandra Silber are terrific as Jenny Cavilleri and Oliver Barrett III. Silber was in the Tyne Daly “Master Class” on Broadway last season and Reynolds appeared in the fine off Broadway production of Tony Kushner’s “The Illusion” at the Signature Theatre.
Star casting would be a mistake with the stage “Love Story” — if you could find young stars who sing and act as well as Silber and Reynolds do — so I hope that when the time comes to produce the show in New York that it is handled as carefully as it is at the Walnut Street Theatre.
This might be too modest a show for Broadway, but it seems likely to have a long life at regional theaters and colleges around the country.
(“Love Story” is running through Oct. 21 at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.)