Punk'd

A show with a negative word in its title, like the verb used in the New York Musical Theater Festival's Love Sucks, risks having its title turned against it if the show is subpar. But the only thing that sucks about Stephen O'Rourke and Brandon Patton's punk-rock retelling of Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost is that the show's run ends on Oct. 6. This is a brash, thrilling new musical that deserves an open-ended run downtown with wild, adoring crowds. Set in the East Village in the 1970s, the show follows two bands: the all-boy Molotovs and the all-grrl Guttersnipes. Band leaders Big Joe (Molotovs) and Patti (Guttersnipes) try to put music before mating by placing a limit on the amount of times a band member can have sex with someone in order to ward off rehearsal-killing relationships. When the groups cross paths and boy meets girl (times three), love blooms, and it's up to the others to convince former pals turned bitter rivals Big Joe and Patti that they're meant for each other.

The stage features a full band setup and a blue/gray brick-esque backdrop tagged with graffiti and a picture of the Bard. Moveable pieces are brought in for more elaborate locations. However, the most impressive sets in this show are the ones done by the bands. Most of the actors are in bands and/or write music, which lends believability to their performances. Any audience members arriving late to the show who walked in during the Molotovs's first number, No More Girlfriends, could not be faulted for believing they had walked into a concert by mistake, as the band's chemistry and precision seem the result of years, not weeks, of rehearsals.

Of course, great music would (one hopes) be a given in a show like this. What was really surprising was how romantic and sweet the courtships were, even as they started from a base of mutual physical attraction. When Big Joe tries to turn on the charm around Patti, it's played out more naturally and adorably than in any rom-com, chick flick, or cutesy-named love story genre that comes to mind.

Actors Nicholas Webber and Rebecca Hart really bring it in these roles, and are excellent frontpersons for their groups to boot. (It should also be noted that Heather Robb, as the love 'em and leave 'em Kate, has a great rock voice, acts her role brilliantly, and is smolderingly gorgeous.)

Couples, if you're looking for an alternative to the standard dinner-and-a-movie date, consider paying a visit to Hell's Kitchen this weekend to see this show. Producers, if you're looking for an alternative to yet another over-exposed theatrical chestnut, consider paying to remount this show in a gritty, below 14th Street venue. Love Sucks rocks.

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