Love Lies at the Warner TheatreBy Adam Sylvain • Apr 4th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Touring Production: (Web)
Warner Theatre, Washington DC
Through April 7th
2:15 with intermission
$45-52 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed April 2nd, 2013
Hinton Battle’s Love Lies, a musical “dramedy,” debuted Tuesday, April 2 at Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C. The gospel-infused musical spotlights the death of Harrison Brown, a carouser during his lifetime who the audience and his three fiancées discover was engaged to multiple women before he died. What follows is a mixture of salacious storytelling by the betrayed women–Victoria Davis, Kim Anderson, and Pam Jackson–each initially believing they are Brown’s true lover, comedic interlude by an affable funeral director, and a posthumous turnaround in Brown’s character, brought about by Pastor Milkum.
Battle, a three-time Tony award winner, is best known for his performance roles, which began in 1975 with his appearance as the Scarecrow on Broadway’s The Wiz. His latest project, Love Lies is written, produced, and directed by Battle, who also stars in the role of Pastor Milkum. Battle spent several of his childhood years in Washington, D.C., making the tour stop at the Warner Theatre something of a homecoming for him. ShowBizRadio had the opportunity to talk with Hinton Battle in an interview earlier this week.
As I watched the show, it was clear from the start that the plot structure of Love Lies is built around the talents of a celebrated cast, led by R&B musician Brian McKnight (Harrison Brown), and three-time Grammy nominee Angie Stone (Victoria Davis). The rest of a the cast includes film and TV actress Elise Neal (Kim Anderson), vocal contest winner Crystal Aikin (Mother Harrison), comic Kier Spates (Funeral Director), performer Amber A. Harris (Pam Jackson), and of course Hinton Battle (Pastor Milkum). Collectively, the group brings high energy, soulful singing, and ample amounts of comedic relief to a show that seeks to blend sexually driven dialogue and dancing with its Gospel ballads and redemptive storyline. Audiences may debate whether these elements exist incongruently or are effectively synthesized throughout the performance, especially since almost every scene takes place in a funeral hall, but it’s clear the suggestive dancing and innuendo-laced dialogue are meant to mirror the production’s weighty subjects of love, sex, and betrayal. More perplexing to me was the appearance of a random dancer in a banana suit during one of the musical numbers, and a few song and dance compilations which seemed to divert too much from the tension of the scene.
Love Lies‘ emphasis on choreography and music should allow most audiences to see past the sometimes discordant plot. A largely female audience responded with swoons when Brian McKnight began singing his hit “Back At One” while recounting his first moments of romance with Victoria Davis. The powerful vocal talent of Crystal Aikin, who sang several ballads as the inconsolable mother of Harrison Brown, was also met with high praise throughout the evening.
Aikin’s performance was most notable to me with her impressive range and evident passion which allowed her to sing seemingly from her toes. Another high point of the performance came when current members of the Washington-based Jones-Haywood School of Ballet joined a local choir onstage with members of the cast to perform the gospel hymn “He Did It All For Me.” A local choir from each city on the Love Lies tour is invited to perform for the musical, but the appearance of ballet students from Jones-Haywood School of Ballet was unique since Battle began his own performance career with the school during his childhood years in Washington, D.C.
The April 2 début of Love Lies was my first visit to the Warner Theatre, a beautiful venue with the gilded detailing and brocade curtains you rarely see outside of 20th century vaudeville theaters. The floral detailing of the metalwork surrounding a series of crests lining the walls and ceilings of the theater reach a powerful focal point in the middle of the ceiling where a glistening chandelier illuminates the space. Sitting in the theater, you can’t help but feel whisked back in time to when the theater hosted mostly vaudeville performances and silent film screenings. The acoustics of the space were quite good as well, especially if you like a thumping bass you can feel in your chest. If you enjoy soulful gospel hymns and edgy romance drama, I’d recommend you make a performance of Love Lies this week an excuse to visit the Warner Theatre. As if you needed an excuse.
Disclaimer: ShowBizRadio was provided two complimentary media tickets for this review.
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Adam Sylvain is a high school teacher and freelance writer in Northern Virginia. When not occupying a classroom, or meeting a deadline, he enjoys experiencing live theater, getting outdoors, and smoking an occasional tobacco pipe filled with rum tobacco.