Conceived by Sharon Spiegel-Wagner, Loving You is an enchanting exploration of love and relationships, how they develop and grow, and what they mean to different people. The four performers – accompanied by the sparkling Drew Bakker on the piano – weave together a wonderful story through musical theatre standards, inhabiting each song like a familiar piece of clothing, drawing the audience in to the story.
The song list is a pitch-perfect selection of both well-known standards and deeper cuts of both more established and newer composers. The medleys all work wonderfully and often intertwine with one another, with pleasing thematic and lyrical interplay coming to the fore. As we journey through this meditation on affection, we are also treated to recorded interviews conducted by Spiegel-Wagner showcasing a variety of poignant viewpoints on what love means, and peoples’ related experiences. The interviews add a wonderfully and engagingly human touch to the story, making the show immediate and personal. The interviews illustrate what is such a marvelous part of musical theatre – and music in general – that our individual experiences and interpretations of songs inform our journeys through music, even in a shared setting. What makes Loving You work so well is the constant emotional notes that are hit and reverberate individually around the audience.
The performers use the range of feeling on offer to them to craft nuanced stories through their vocals. Lance Maron, Lorri Strauss, Musanete Sakupwanya, and Sharon Spiegel-Wagner wow the audience with their diverse range of voices and vocal abilities. In particular, Sakupwanya and Spiegel-Wagner shine with their beautiful upper registers and supple flips between head and chest voices. Spiegel-Wagner’s performance of “Heart of Stone” from Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s new musical Six was a singular highlight, showcasing her gorgeous tone and exceptionally nuanced physicality. The group gelled magnificently on the chorus numbers, with Drew Bakker’s musical direction a truly distinguishing feature. In a theatre the size of the Auto & general Theatre on the Square, the sound levels can be tough to get right, but once again – as with the charming All You Ask Of Me (also featuring Drew Bakker) – the audio is perfectly measured.
Drew Bakker’s overall direction is also effective, using the levels available to fade the non-active performers into the background on numbers that they aren’t involved in, ensuring the audience isn’t distracted from the important work at the front of the stage. The costumes are subtly understated and then brilliantly overstated after halfway, allowing the performers to step out in style during their individual showstopping numbers. I personally loved the effect that the glittering dresses added to “Say The Word” and “Heart of Stone”, helping to give the moments a much more grand feeling.
Loving You is, at its root, a delightful night out at the theatre, which satisfies both the desire for musical theatre standards and the need to bring newer material to Johannesburg audiences.
We walked in to be entertained, and we left Loving You.