Reviving the Romance: Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works' "Love Story"
Mounting new musicals that haven’t been locally staged before is quickly becoming Ron Baumanis’ calling card.
“It’s one of the things I love to do,” Baumanis said.
In January 2015, for example, Baumanis directed an Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production of the stage musical Bonnie & Clyde,” which won over audiences so much that Baumanis went on to stage the same musical at Dexter’s Encore Theatre and Wyandotte’s Downriver Actors Guild. Now, Baumanis’ company, Ann Arbor Musical Theater Works, will present the regional premiere of the stage musical adaptation of Love Story at Ann Arbor’s Children’s Creative Center from January 5-15.
Based on the 1970 bestselling novel by Erich Segal -- with a book by Stephen Clark, music by Howard Goodall, and lyrics by Stephen Clark and Goodall -- Love Story tells the story of a young man (Oliver) from a wealthy East Coast family who falls in love with a poor young pianist (Jenny) of Italian descent. Against his father’s wishes, Oliver marries Jenny, so then he must find his way in the world without his family’s wealth. He goes to law school while Jenny works as a teacher, but when bad news arrives, both Oliver and Jenny have no choice but to alter their plans for the future.
“The musical is based more on the book than the  movie, which kind of ‘60s-ized’ it,” said Baumanis. “It takes a lot of that stuff out of it and goes back to the basics of the story.”
England’s Chichester Festival Theatre premiered the musical in 2010, and it was such a hit that a West End production -- and three Lawrence Olivier Award nominations -- quickly followed.
“I saw the show in London about five years ago and just adored it,” said Baumanis. “It ran for quite some time on the West End, and it toured all over the U.K. for a couple of years, but it never came to the U.S.”
Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre mounted its own production of the show in 2012, and it’s been staged in a handful of other countries, but for some reason, the show never gained enough momentum to get America’s attention -- which might seem curious, since it’s based on an American hit novel that was adapted into an American hit movie.
“Part of it, I think, is that Love Story is such a part of the United States’ zeitgeist,” said Baumanis. “In its time, everybody read it, everybody saw it, everybody knew it. And the first thing many people think is, ‘It’s so schmaltzy. How could you turn that into a musical?’ But in England, I don’t think it had that taint.”
Baumanis wanted to stage Love Story a couple of years ago when the U.S. rights were held by Music Theatre International, but he felt he didn’t have the right actors (among other elements) at that time. When he picked the project back up this past year, he found that MTI no longer licensed the show, and had to reach out directly to the show’s writer and composer. Though getting a “yes” took some time, AAMTW obtained what is an exclusive U.S. contract to produce the show.
“The authors are so passionate about it,” said Baumanis. “They bent over backwards to put us in touch with their agents. They’re just hoping people get to see it and talk about it.”
If you’re curious about AAMTW, the theater company staging the show, Baumanis said that it’s been around since 2000 but only stages a show when it has a special project in mind; plus, it always partners with a community charity.
Its last production, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, hit the stage in 2013, and money was donated to a U-M professorship focused on global women’s health. Love Story, meanwhile, will support U-M pediatric oncology research by way of a January 12 fundraiser performance, with a talkback and afterglow.
“The show’s 80 minutes, without an intermission,” said Baumanis. "Hopefully, Ann Arbor audiences will love it.”
Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.
"Love Story" showtimes are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., from January 5-15 at the Children’s Creative Center, 1600 Pauline in Ann Arbor. General admission tickets are $25, available at annarbormusicaltheaterworks.com or 734-546-5087.