It’s Only Life

At Ventura's Rubicon Theatre, Saturday, June 21. Shows through July 13.

Jessica Phillips, Billy Porter, Lucas Steele, Jamison Stern, and Joan Almedilla perform the title song in Rubicon Theatre Company's production of John Bucchino's It's Only Life.

What keeps you going when love abandons you, and “the one” doesn’t think you are his or her “one”? And if nothing lasts forever, then what’s the point? In It’s Only Life, John Bucchino deploys a career’s worth of great songs to address the question of what purpose love has in life. Coming in from the scorching white heat on Saturday for the show’s premiere, the Rubicon Theatre’s lobby was a welcome relief, while inside an electrifying set greeted the audience with black, mirror-like walls and neon lights straddling the ceiling. With such a simple set, the show’s success depended on its five-person cast’s ability to relate to the audience through Bucchino’s songs. This musical revue threads separate love skits into a romantic evening, giving the audience a chance to relive love in all its facets.

The show requires each performer to use his or her singing voice to become a new individual and to manifest another side of love. For example, Joan Almedilla’s perfect pitch somehow evokes the fear of jumping into love, while the delicacy of Lucas Steele’s singing presents love’s fragility. Jessica Phillips drives the show forward with her magnetic stage presence and dynamic voice, consistently expressing love’s unrelenting fervor. Finally, Billy Porter provides a balance to Phillips’s zeal through his warm croons, which seem to denote a tenderer, but still mysterious side of love.

The result of this method is a show that plays on its audience’s emotions even more than a conventional musical typically does. It’s Only Life offers a song for each person’s love story-the falling for the best friend, the cheating that gets denied, the waiting for the prince or the princess, the rejection that can never be understood, and even the refusing to let go. Bucchino’s resonant lyrics reach out to the listener, and give comfort in the face not only of past heartbreaks, but also present heartaches, and even high hopes for the future.

Just as it takes a while to get used to cold water, it takes several songs to get into the show because Bucchino’s lyrics compel their listeners to dwell on the pain of the past. In the end, though, the emotional plunge leaves the audience touched with a sense that their past, present, or oncoming “happy ending gone wrong” won’t stop their heart, but that “it’s only life.”

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