I buy Thelonius Monk's philosophy—that "only cats worth anything are cats who take chances"—in theater and life. So bravo, Cal State Fullerton, for tackling this rather difficult project: a musical version of Triumph of Love, Marivaux's classic French farce. As farce, it demands pinpoint physical and verbal timing. As musical adaptation, it requires a cast that sings beautifully and dances—or at least moves—gracefully. Add the facts that Marivaux wrote it 268 years ago and that it takes place in Ancient Greece, and you see this isn't the safest choice of material. But under James Taulli's talented direction and the all-around excellence of CSUF's production team, this is a good-looking, nice-sounding, quite funny and unquestionably entertaining show.
What Taulli, musical director Mitchell Hanlon and choreographer William Lett get—which the big 1997-1998 Broadway production with Betty Buckley and F. Murray Abraham didn't—is that Triumph of Love works wonderfully as a lighthearted comic-romance fable, not a heavy-hitting extravaganza. The story's moral (that "LOVE" must complement "LOGIC"), its situation (Princess pretending to be someone she's not; her beloved Prince separated by a family feud and polar philosophies), and an improbable set of henchmen and twists are dumb if you take them seriously, but charming if you flow with it. And flow this production does, highlighting the intelligent whimsy of James Magruder's book and Susan Birkenhead's lyrics.
The cast has no weak spots. Megan Sullivan (Princess) and Ryan Sander (Prince) look, emote and sing winningly. Monica Mannarelli and Kevin Beaty are fittingly triumphant as their logical, passionless elders. And the three henchmen —Amy DeFriese, Steven Janji and Chet Cole—are show-stealingly funny, lovable and effervescent. Six live musicians accompany the proceedings skillfully. All in all, Triumph is a real pleaser for young-at-heart romantics.
Triumph of Love at Cal State Fullerton's Recital Hall, 800 N. State College, Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 278-3371. Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. $11-$15.