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By Lisa Lyons

Next to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” one of the most beloved Christmas big-screen films is “Love Actually,” directed by Richard Curtis, that counts down the drama-filled weeks leading up to Christmas in the lives of five separate yet intertwined Londoners. The show is back after last year’s sellout run at the Wallis Annenberg Theatre in Beverly Hills and is now playing there through December 29.

In the tradition of the live sing-along nights at the Hollywood Bowl, “Love Actually LIVE” is a multi-media concert experience where the film and live-action seamlessly intertwine throughout the London setting. The result is a satisfying trip down memory lane for the audience, and the opening night theatergoers responded with wild enthusiasm.

To briefly recap, the families and friends whose lives we enter are David, the newly elected Prime Minister of London and his working-class assistant Natalie; recently widowed Daniel and his adorable stepson Sam; newlyweds Peter and Juliet and his lovelorn best friend Mark; lonely editor Sarah and her erstwhile crush Karl; Sarah’s cynical boss Harry and his wife Karen who suspects he is having an affair with sexy Mia; Billy Mack, a faded rock star angling for a comeback with the support of his long-suffering manager Joe; and jilted author Jamie, who is writing his newest book in France, and his beautiful Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia who speaks no English.

Original songs, as well as featured numbers from the movie soundtrack, are presented on a gorgeous set with a 10-foot-high decorated Christmas tree at the center and two side areas where scenes are played out. There is a fantastic live orchestra that plays both onstage and, at some points, in the auditorium that adds to the evening’s festivities.

The number of talented singers on stage is awe-inspiring, and you’d be hard-pressed to single them out, but I’ll try. Several performers from last year’s production are back, including heartthrob recording artist Rex Smith (Billy Mack), Tomasina Abate (Karen), and Doug Kreeger (Harry), are among those who give solid performances.

Powerful women’s voices soar into the rafters, including standouts Carrie Manolakos (Natalie), Gabriella Carrillo (Aurelia), Aubrie Sellers (Sarah) and Nayah Damasen as Joanna, Sam’s secret crush in the school band.

The men are also well-represented by Smith (who still looks damn fine in his gold lame shorts and Santa hat), young Levi Smith (Sam), James Byous (Mark), John Battagliese (David), Jon Robert Hall (Daniel), Declan Bennett (Jamie) and Rogelio Douglas, Jr. (Peter) who blew the top off the theater with his reinvented, gospel-inspired version of “White Christmas.”

Huge kudos to the behind the scenes team who created a warm and welcoming world at the Wallis. They include director and adapter Anderson Davis, music supervisor Jesse Vargas, vocal designer AnnMarie Milazzo, musical stager Sumie Maeda, scenic designer Matthew Steinbrenner, lighting designer Michael Berger, sound designer Ben Soldate, costume designer Steve Mazurek, video designer Aaron Rhyne, and the fantastic 15-piece orchestra.

The show is basically family-friendly, although be warned there are some naked body parts and suggestive actions in the filmed sequences, so maybe not great for kids under 10…just sayin’.

For fans of the film, this is a perfect kickoff for the holiday season. If you have never seen the movie, shame on you! Many in the audience left the theater vowing to go home and watch the original film, so a whole new generation of “Love Actually” fans is in the making.

Tickets prices are $39-$125 (subject to change) and can be purchased by calling 310-746-4000 or visiting www.TheWallis.org/Love.


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