Dylan Van Hout is dead! She collapsed in a condo filled with her many lovers. One of them—maybe everyone—is responsible! With its campy, dinner-theatre mystery vibes, Love You to Death is a narratively ambitious new Canadian musical that often misses the fence it’s swinging for; but many of the balls it has in the air have ample comic momentum.
Melly Magrath’s book gives us an investigation by two cops—no-nonsense Gerry (Katie Crompton) and goofy side-kick Larry (Jameson Mosher)—with flashbacks to establish each character’s relationship to the late Dylan (Mallary Davenport). There’s her husband Kitt (Nicholas Xidos), flight attendant Stephen (Bebe Brunjes), nurse Bianca (Camila Farah), lawyer Gilly (Amy Dee-Smith), bartender Vanessa (Millie Boon), and intern Carley (Bailey Wilson).
Once the key relationships have been established and we delve into the more complicated plot developments, the story gets tiresome despite its relentless pace. The constant flashing back and forth began to irritate me. Impressively, each of these characters gets adequate stage time, but that drags the runtime out to over two hours and, by then, the schtick gets a little stale.
The show feels like an improvised sketch. A haphazard reality and frequently contrived performances have that distinctive “Yes and…” quality. Which is, don’t get me wrong, a lot of fun, but wears thin after an hour. The second act goes to some nuanced, emotionally compelling places, but the material as a whole doesn’t properly support it. I’m also not sure why it’s set in the 90s, other than an opportunity for gags about floppy disks and their storage capacity. Some key plot points are also muddled—they are trapped because… a glass stairwell shattered (?)
One of the great pleasures of mystery stories and their twisty reveals is your chance to recognize the sneaky sign-posts in retrospect. Some surprising developments of the second act seem to come out of nowhere, as if the story itself isn’t even aware of the cards it’s holding.
The songs—music by Quinton Naughton, lyrics by Magrath, Naughton, and Caitlin Turner—are in a variety of contrasting styles and sufficiently entertaining, though not particularly memorable. The vocals range from passable to riveting. I had difficulty hearing some of the lyrics, especially in ensemble numbers.
Alisha-Jo Penney’s choreography is very snazzy, but doesn’t feel very motivated. It exists here as a self-aware musical theatre convention, rather than a genuine storytelling device. It seems incongruous, for example, to have characters who are suspicious and resentful of each other suddenly doing jazz hands and voguing together. Nine people on a shallow stage also adds a certain awkwardness.
The sexual tension and myriad romantic entanglements are joyfully queer, with impassioned displays of affection prompting cheers and applause from the audience. This aspect is sincerely heartfelt and celebratory, though I wasn’t quite as swept up in the communal enthusiasm as I wanted to be.
Love You to Death has genuinely hilarious and endearing moments. In its current form, though, it lacks the polish to justify its length.