Strong Singing Can't Overcome Weak Production In Love Jones: The Musical

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“There will be no music, dialogue or poetry from the film Love Jones in this production,” said MC Lyte. “Now sit back and enjoy the LOVE JONES: THE MUSICAL.”

Say what? There’s certainly no shortage of musicals adapted from hit films: SISTER ACT, DIRTY DANCING, A CHRISTMAS STORY and THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY have all graced the stage of the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis, with varying degrees of success. SISTER ACT was fantastic. The others were…well, SISTER ACT was fantastic! LOVE JONES certainly wasn’t as horrible as some reviews have made it out to be – I was entertained by it. Yet I do agree that there’s no real reason to name this production after the film if it eschews most of what made the film resonate with its audience.

The story still revolved around “good man” Darius, played by the talented Tony Grant and conflicted photographer Nina, played by the scintillating songstress Chrisette Michele. Most other similarities to the film fall away rapidly from there. The supporting cast is comprised mostly of R&B standouts, with Musiq Soulchild as Darius’ wise best friend and MC Lyte as the host and owner of Sanctuary, the urban club where much of the show takes place. Michel’le, Marsha Ambrosius, David Hollister, and Raheem DeVaughn are among the other luminaries on hand.

Unfortunately, this off-Broadway production is hampered by not sticking closer to the original material. The plot is very basic and the script is full of urban theatre clichés such as Nina’s loud, bossy bestie and Soulchild’s wife – I’d give you their characters names but I can’t remember them, the programs were $10 and there’s no official website that I can find, not even a Wikipedia page, to gather such information easily – as the louder and more “cra-cra” new gal pal. Sprinkle in a smooth, rich ex-fiancée and a token over-the-top gay character and stir. Much of the affair seems disjointed, as the songs (again, not those from the film) just feel like a means to get a given performer on stage. Some of the songs don’t even seem to match the scene.    

The leads do have good chemistry and Michele in particular proved to be a nimble actress. When the door of a set piece suddenly stuck shut, she smoothly improvised on the fly. Unfortunately, many of her costars adlibbed references to St. Louis, hoping to get a cheap pop from the locals. Late in the second act I discovered the whole story was taking place in Chicago, which really threw me off. Overall the production simply lacks polish. Long set changes during scene transitions were also distracting.

Yet despite my criticisms I honestly did enjoy the show. The music might not have always fit the moment but they were all beautifully performed. There were funny lines and moments of believable drama. I give the folks behind the scenes credit for making a solid effort and the cast of mostly R&B vocalists props for their acting. I just wish they had branded the show as an original concept instead of riding on the nostalgic coattails of the LOVE JONES film.

Grade: 
3.0 / 5.0