Written by 2:33 am Musical, Review, South Coast Repertory, Theater, Uncategorized

World Premiere: Prelude to a Kiss @ South Coast Repertory – Review

(Photo Credit: Matt Gush/SCR)

Written by Patrick Chavis

The World Premiere of Prelude to a Kiss, the musical, is playing now at South Coast Repertory from April 5 – May 4, 2024. 

What appears to be a light love-at-first-sight commercial piece is, at times, a thinly written rom-com affair that surprises with deeper insights about love and what really matters.  Prelude to a Kiss is a musical right at home on the South Coast Repertory stage. Before it was the popular Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin film, Prelude, premiered at South Coast Repertory in January 1988. I was two then, but that’s an entirely different story. The play reached Broadway and received two Tony Award nominations.

Like the original play, the musical follows Rita (Hannah Corneau), a rebellious, free-spirited artist/bartender who falls in love with Peter (Chris McCarrell), a straight-laced guy with a tough childhood who is still trying to find himself. In love at first sight fashion, these two fall fast and hard for each other, leading to a rapid engagement and wedding. At the wedding, a magical event changes everything.


This musical is playful. And when I say playful, I mean there’s a lot of space for a performer to mold the character around the performers, especially the leads. It has such a great structure and repeat-watching potential. It is also a piece that depends on the hand of the director and performers with vision. Without it, this could be a dry affair. 


Luckily, director David Ivers was up to the task with this one. Performance-wise, especially in the first act, some of the pieces struggled with performers fighting over others vocally, making it hard to understand the lyrics, especially during the earlier songs. However, as the show progressed, fewer ensemble vocal issues existed in this production. 


Smaller, more intimate tunes shined in this and took advantage of Hannah Corneau’s talent for making small but varied choices with her voice. Corneau’s vocals are hard to pin down and are surprisingly rich. The musical consistently bounces back and forth from comedic tunes like “What Ever My Little Girl Wants,” which played on banjo and performed by Rita’s family members, and more serious fare like “I Haven’t Slept in Years,” a solo tune by Rita touching on Rita’s fear about the world she lives in. 

While some people go to musicals for the toe-tapers you can belt out in the shower, this musical doesn’t have many tunes like that. However, it has some memorable songs. Some of my favorites from the night:   

  • “I Haven’t Slept in Years, (Hannah Corneau)”
  • “Love in the Age of Anxiety (Ensemble, Hannah Corneau, Chris McCarrell)
  • “In the Movies” (Ensemble, Chris McCarrell, Jimmie “J.J.” Jeter)
  • “This Body” (Jonathan Gillard Daly, Chris McCarrell). 


The live orchestra is almost in view. The entire performance sits on a high rafter above the stage. When you walk into the theater, besides the sounds of instrumentalists warming up, the stage is rather bare, with only a few lights filling it. This does not last long, and the set pieces in this move and slide from stage left to stage right in rapid fashion for the remainder of the production. 

Set Design:

Scott Davis’s scenic design takes you from urban to tropical and mystical while keeping it rather low-key, a true feat. This was made possible by Yee Eun Nam’s massive, elaborate projections. Nam proves time and time again that when implemented correctly, projections are more than a gimmick or a quick answer. They are an art form in its own right on the stage.  


Jimmie “J.J.” Jeter (Taylor) does as much as you can and more in this limited supporting role. Jeter made it look effortless.  

Jonathan Gillard Daly’s (Julius) performance is worth the price of admission. The biggest shortcoming of this musical is that his character did not have more stage time.   

8.4 Overall
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Very Good Show! OCR Recommended! April 5 – May 4, 2024.

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