Loving Repeating is a musical about writer, poet, novelist and librettist Gertrude Stein (1874–1946). With music by Stephen Flaherty (Seussical, Ragtime) and lyrics by Stein adapted by Frank Galati, it ranges through Gertrude’s life and love affair with Alice B Toklas, and her philosophies on language and writing.
Nathan Weyers’s set is simple: a stepped platform in the centre; a “pulpit” to one side from which Gertrude (Deidre Rubinstein) narrates and observes; a place for the six-piece band behind the pulpit; and deep-red panels depicting folded rose petals, or possibly labial folds – either would be appropriate. The company of 13 gorgeous young men and women (seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a beautiful-looking cast) sing and dance all together, or as just the men or just the women, depending on the circumstances. The costumes by Daniel Harvey are simple and aesthetically pleasing, with the light-up headpieces/wigs being especially effective, and the leather gear for the men being especially sexy.
Gertrude’s cubist language doesn’t often make sense in the conventional way, but it honestly doesn’t matter – the meaning comes through loud and clear. The music is sensual and playful and altogether delightful, while the choreography by Michael Ralph is superb, and superbly performed, with much intertwining and graceful stepping. The almost-constant busy hand movements are at first a little distracting, but soon become just another way of interpreting Gertrude’s delicious wordplay – repeating and folding in on itself and repeating.
Rubinstein is marvellous as the aged Gertrude. She is a magnetic presence, conveying much with a simple raise of an eyebrow or a gentle twist of her mouth. To me, she is Australia’s Maggie Smith or Judi Dench and a true national living treasure. Younger versions of Gertrude are well played by Jennifer Peers and Caitlin Berry, matched by the two Alices, Nicole Melloy and Gillian Cosgriff.
There was not a bum note in this production, not a weak member of the ensemble or band. I had no idea what to expect going in, but came out afterwards marvelling at the amount of talent in this city and the wonderful feeling of having just seen something very special, created by very skilled and passionate people.
This is the first production from the Vic Theatre Company and it is a triumph. I was thrilled and invigorated and overjoyed by everything about Loving Repeating. Congratulations to producer Glenn Ferguson, director Jason Langley and the entire cast and crew.