Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein’s love story gets the musical treatment in “Loving Repeating”

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Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein are one of the most famous lesbian couples in history, yet we rarely get to hear about the early days of their courtship. Loving Repeating, a musical adapted by Frank Galati and composed by Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once on this Island), originally opening in Chicago in 2006, so it’s fitting that one of Chicago’s hottest and most ambitious young theatre companies is reviving the musical this summer.

Kokandy utilizes the city’s talented non-equity musical theatre performers to put on tight, daring musicals in a town that is more celebrated for its straight theatre (meaning non-musical plays). Loving Repeating is a chamber musical, with a small set of actors and musicians, which makes the show feel quite intimate. Such an atmosphere is fitting for a love story for the ages. 

Emily Goldberg as Alice B. Toklas, Amanda Giles as Young Gertrude and Caron Buinis as Gertrude Stein in Kokandy Productions in “Loving Repeating.”LovingRepeating-1  All photos by Michael Brosilow

Set in two different time periods, Loving Repeating features Gertrude near the end of her life recalling her love affair with Alice, as depicted by a set of actresses playing a younger version of Alice and Gertrude. It’s memories brought to life with song, using much of Stein’s own poems and texts. Kokandy’s c0-artistic director Allison Hendrix (who, full disclosure, was a college classmate of mine) directs Loving Repeating  filled me in on why Kokandy decided to revive this beautiful, yet rather obscure musical.

“We were sort of looking for intellectual and romantic, those combination of things,” Allison said. “[My co-artistic director John D. Glover] had seen that original production and he was like, ‘You know, there’s this piece and you would love it.’ So we grabbed the perusal and he had a recording. The recording that exists is the original cast in Chicago. I started listening to it and he was just right.”

Front Row (left to right): Emily Goldberg as Alice B. Toklas, Amanda Giles as Young Gertrude. Back Row (left to right): Andrew Lund, George Toles, Jake Morrissy, Maisie Rose, Stephanie Stockstill, Sarah Hayes and Caron Buinis as Gertrude SteinLovingRepeating-2

Allison’s fascination with Gertrude Stein started years ago.

“When I was 17 I had this weird obsession with Gertrude Stein. I can’t even tell you how I discovered her or where it came from or why, I just remember suddenly when I was 17, reading a bunch of Gertrude Stein,” she said. “To be fair, not understanding any of it, I’m pretty sure, but just thinking there was something special there.”

Amanda Giles as Young Gertrude and Caron Buinis as Gertrude SteinLovingRepeating-5

Allison also adapted the original version, which has Gertrude lecturing to students at the University of Chicago, to the more personal setting of her famous salon. According to Allison, this allowed for a more intimate feeling to the show.

“She’s still directly addressing the audience but we get a better sense of a person who is nearing end of life and looking back,” Allison said.

So far the production is getting great reviews including a thumbs up from the Chicago Tribune‘s theatre critic, Chris Jones. The show runs now through August 30th at Theatre Wit in Chicago.