Babani Gives an Inside Look at the "Other Pleasures" of Aspects of Love at the Menier

News   Babani Gives an Inside Look at the "Other Pleasures" of Aspects of Love at the Menier
David Babani, artistic director of London's Menier Chocolate Factory, sheds light on the new, intimate production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love, which some fans regard as their favorite show by the composer.

David Babani
David Babani Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN


Aspects of Love, Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1989 sung-through musical that traces the nuances of love within the members of one extended family, will re-emerge in a new "chamber" production at the Menier Chocolate Factory beginning July 7.

Menier artistic director David Babani spoke with about the production directed by Tony and Olivier Award-winning director Trevor Nunn, who also staged the original West End and Broadway productions of the musical.

"[This Aspects of Love] came about whilst we were doing Little Night Music originally at the Chocolate Factory, which is nearly 2 ½ years ago now," Babani explained. Nunn also staged Night Music, the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical about mismatched lovers across generations, which transferred to Broadway in fall 2009.

He continued, "We we were trying to find another project that we could work on together. Trevor declared that when the original production of Aspects occurred, it sort of seemed to go down a path that nobody had intended because it was the first show after Phantom of the Opera." Nunn approached Babani about returning to the work with the original concept that he and Lloyd Webber had first envisioned. "He'd always wanted to explore doing the production that they'd all originally spoken about, and that happened to be a very small chamber production, which is all about the storytelling and really exploring the complexity of the characters' relationships in the show," Babani said.

Lloyd Webber aligned with Phantom lyricists Don Black and Charles Hart to pen the score for the musical based on the 1955 David Garnett novella of the same title. The cult-favorite musical — cherished by many for its intimacy and humanity, in contrast to the more bombastic pop of Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Phantom of the Opera — offers sweeping melodies and some of Lloyd Webber's most nuanced work with musical themes. The lyrics often express the feelings of hearts that are endlessly searching rather than settled, so there seem to be fewer liftable pop songs here, although the score introduced one of Lloyd Webber's most popular songs, "Love Changes Everything."

Katherine Kingsley in rehearsal
photo by Catherine Ashmore

Told in flashback, the story begins as a 17-year-old Englishman named Alex Dillingham falls in love with a rising French actress, Rose Vibert. When the two escape to his family's retreat in the South of France, the young man's uncle appears and changes the course of their affair — and their lives. Aspects of Love wends its way through generations of a family and their companions, exploring the ways each of them fall in love with one another to varying degrees. "There's so many links between these six principal characters that are mind-blowing and I think, hopefully, in a small chamber space and in a chamber sort of setting, it'll just hopefully be beautiful and thrilling and magical," Babani said.

"The thing I love about Aspects is, unlike a fair amount of Andrew's work, it is so grown-up and so beautiful and so lyrical and the score is so sumptuous, and the locations are wonderful. It doesn't rely on fantasy, whereas everything from Joseph to Starlight Express to Phantom of the Opera [does] — and this was his first departure from that, really. And that's why I think it's such an extraordinary piece of work."

Lloyd Webber, who has been involved in all major U.K. productions of his work, has left Nunn and the Menier to explore their own vision for the latest incarnation of Aspects. Babani said, "He's been incredibly supportive, but he really has let us produce the show, so it is definitely a Chocolate Factory production. Whether it ends up being good or bad, it's something that we have artistically been given complete free rein over, and for that I am so excited and grateful and just can't wait to see what we come up with."

Babani said that the score remains intact (with no additions or deletions), but as with most Menier musicals, the orchestra for Aspects of Love will reflect the intimate feel of the 140-seat theatre. "It is a completely new orchestration," he said. Original orchestrator David Cullen has revisited the piece, for what Babani describes as "a complete re-think of the sound of what the show is. Mainly by necessity, given the size of the theatre, it's seven musicians and it'll be a beautiful chamber setting. There's no percussion in the band, so it really makes you listen."

Broadway actor Michael Arden will play Alex opposite Katherine Kingsley's Rose Vibert. The principal cast will also feature Dave Willetts as George, Rosalie Craig as Giulietta, Martyn Ellis as Marcel and Rebecca Brewer as Jenny.

Babani, who has been close with Arden for several years, said, "Genuinely, we've cast him because he's brilliant. Nobody knows who he is over here. I think he's going to blow people's minds and that's the sort of gamble and risk that we love to try and be able to take in the Chocolate Factory and I'm thrilled that he said yes. We have an amazing cast, as well and none of them unbalance the piece, so hopefully we'll get a great piece of storytelling and a wonderful evening in the theatre."

The original London Aspects premiered in 1989 at the Prince of Wales Theatre and ran for 1,325 performances. The Broadway transfer, which was not a critical favorite, opened at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1990 and lasted 377 performances. Nunn earned a Tony nomination for his direction.

Aspects of Love will run through Sept. 26 at the Menier. Visit MenierChocolateFactory.

Michael Arden
Michael Arden
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