Triumph of Love

TriumphOriginal Broadway Cast, 1997 (JAY) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Pierre Marivaux’s 1722 farce La surprise de l’amour gets a musical workout and an English title, Triumph of Love, thanks to librettist James Magruder, composer Jeffrey Stock, and lyricist Susan Birkenhead. Christopher Sieber is Agis, a young Prince of Sparta, raised by his rationalist Aunt Hesione (Betty Buckley) and Uncle Hermocrates (F. Murray Abraham) to disdain emotional expression and the usurping Princess Leonide (Susan Egan). Naturally, the latter shows up, love blossoms, and complications multiply like rabbits. (This show sets a world’s record for mistaken-identity plot twists.) The narrative is wearying at times — even reading the synopsis in the CD booklet can lead to fatigue — but the songs are accomplished and often enjoyable. Stock has a definite gift for soaring, exciting melodies, orchestrated here by Bruce Coughlin, and Birkenhead’s lyrics are very witty. The best songs are the opener, “This Day of Days,” “Serenity,” and “Issue in Question,” in which Hesione and Agis struggle with feelings of love. “Teach Me Not to Love You” is a notably pretty quartet. The score is less successful when trolling for Broadway laughs via the clown characters played by Nancy Opel, Roger Bart, and Kevin Chamberlin, whose songs include “Mr. Right” and “Henchmen Are Forgotten.” The cast, however, is exemplary. Buckley’s singing is nothing short of heroic, especially in “Serenity” and “If I Cannot Love,” which was cut during previews but is offered here as a bonus track. Sieber and Egan provide sterling vocals, and Abraham is surprisingly effective in “Emotions.” (Note that the melody of “Mr. Right” is by Van Dyke Parks, and that of “Have a Little Faith” is by Michael Kosarin.) — David Barbour