The show was successful in London, and opened on Broadway in 1990 with a thud - it ran 399 performances and lasted just less than a year. Aspects of Love is neither very good nor awful, but at best confused. It takes itself very seriously but also winks here and there at uncomfortable content that deserves far better treatment - infatuations between cousins, generations, the same and the opposite sex, and over the decades. Through its lyrics, it tries to say something about these entanglements; its creators, so far as I can tell, never really decided what.
That said, I had a great time at the Walnut because the production, directed by Bruce Lumpkin, is striking. Even if the show can't give any smart insight into the aspects of love, the production gives us clear understanding of the aspects of theater. The performers' accents, which come and go in this piece, set in Europe in the 1940s, are my only complaint. The rest of it is nailed down and sumptuous, even the set changes: John Farrell's elegant, mostly white country-house scenery is covered and uncovered with billowing scrims that evoke various settings, changed by a crew dressed handsomely in flowing pastels by Colleen Grady.
That's the technical stuff. The voices in this Aspects of Love soar. OK, you could say, so the actors rise high above material that languishes beneath them, and what's the point in that? The answer here is clear: performance. Jennifer Hope Wills, who appeared for a healthy stint on Broadway in a Lloyd Webber record-setter, The Phantom of the Opera, plays the young actress struck by her stage-door Johnny, portrayed by Charles Hagerty. His crystal tenor meets her wide-ranging soprano, and the chemistry is obvious. (Plus, the two of them are lovable on stage, singing or not; Wills is alluring and cheeky, both in her performance and her actual cheekbones, and Hagerty has a sweet presence that makes you want to quickly introduce him to your daughter.)
The roguish uncle of the boy is the forceful and great-sounding Walnut (and Broadway) regular Paul Schoeffler; his squeeze is played by Danielle G. Herbert, and an offspring - I won't say of whom - is Jenna Brooke Scannelli. (Her younger self is played on different nights by Arin Edelstein and Claire Norden.)
When you mix high-quality stage talent with great design, you can get a fine production. As for Aspects of Love as a show, when you mix high-strung, poignant and smarmy, you get icky. So focus on the storytelling, not the story.
Aspects of Love
Through Oct. 23 at Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St. Tickets: $10-$95. Information: 215-574-3550 or www.walnutstreettheatre.org.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, email@example.com, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.