If you loved the terrific 1997 film Love Jones, you may want to cue up that DVD again. Before the opening night show at The National Theatre, an announcement was made that this production of Love Jones: The Musical, was “inspired by” the film but without any of the original dialogue, poetry, or songs. If you can overcome those minor differences, a fun evening with outstanding music is in store, thanks to this on-tour production.
Love Jones: The Musical tracks the film’s original concept of two Chicago adults who quickly experience an intense attraction to each other, a “love jones.” When they meet at the Club Sanctuary, Darius (Tony Grant) is drawn to the beautiful and artistic Nina (Chrisette Michele), correctly saying “Nina’s got it going on.”
Nina, however, has just come out of a difficult relationship and is reluctant to get seriously involved again. Darius is persistent in winning her over, especially in an amusing texting sequence that we watch on video panels. Since Darius has the soul of a poet and the body of a Chippendales dancer, before long Nina succumbs to his charms.
Immediately afterwards, Nina’s wealthy but controlling ex-fiancé Marvin (Chaz Sheppard) reenters the scene seeking another chance. Ultimately Nina and Darius both face the challenge of deciding whether love can overcome jealousy, pride, and the need to give each other second chances.
Nina and Darius get a lot of friendly (and often funny) advice from Nina’s BFF Josie (Angie Fisher) and an up-and-down married couple, Savon and Troy (Musiq Soulchild and Jackie Michaels) who counsel Darius. The humor in Timothy Allen Smith’s book is broad, sometimes blue, but occasionally laugh-out-loud uproarious, reminiscent of Tyler Perry’s Madea films (producer Melvin Childs was a major mentor, promoter, and friend for Perry in his early theatrical career).
While the characters can be a little obvious and the plot predictable, the reason to see Love Jones: The Musical is the music. Simply put, it’s sensational. Even if you aren’t familiar with recording artists such as Musiq Soulchild, MC Lyte (playing the club owner), Michel’le (playing herself), and Raheem DeVaughn (playing Hollywood, another of Nina’s suitors), the smooth, soulful, and soaring sounds of the music can and does blow the audience away.
Speaking of being blown away, the sound system did have some problems, especially the over-amplifying of early musical numbers. I suspect these problems have appeared often during the 30+ city tour given how smoothly one character ad-libbed about having something important to say as soon as the sound is fixed.
The main question that Love Jones: The Musical raises is why are there not more musicals using contemporary R&B/soul/hip-hop music? Even when this story often seemed like an excuse to stage musical numbers augmented with talented club dancers, once those numbers started the audience was almost rapturous. Too often musicals geared to the urban music crowd have been backward-looking (e.g., Motown: The Musical, After Midnight).
Love Jones: The Musical
closes November 21, 2016
Details and tickets
Modern urban musical forms can really connect with an audience (ever heard of Hamilton?). To elevate the show from the regional circuit to Broadway, however, a stronger book is required (witness the failure in 2014 of Holler If Ya Hear Me, a jukebox musical that featured rap music of the late Tupac Shakur). While some the songs fit well with the story, often times it felt like the story was being maneuvered to accommodate the music (such as an excuse to feature Angie Fisher’s 2014 hit” IRS”).
Love Jones: The Musical has considerable charms from the collection of serious musical talent assembled for this touring show and the strong musical numbers. And you can take it home. The soundtrack is on sale in the lobby. While it doesn’t have the character development or the subtlety of the original film it seeks to honor, it can stand on its own as a satisfying excuse to enjoy soulful sounds and light-hearted humor.
Love Jones: The Musical . Directed by Zadia Ife. Written by Timothy Allen Smith. Original music by several cast members produced by MC Lyte and Melvin Childs. Featuring Jemecia Bennet, Terrell Carter, Adrian Clemons, Raheem DeVaughn, Angie Fisher, Tony Grant, Dave Hollister, MC Lyte, Jerel Maddox, Jackie Michaels, Chrisette Michele, Michel’le, Jamie Montgomery, Chaz Shepard, and Musiq Soulchild. Choreography by Jerel Maddox and Adrian Clemons. Produced by Melvin Childs . Presented by the National Theatre. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.