Where do I begin to sing this musical’s praises? “It fills my heart with very special things, with angels’ songs, with wild imaginings…” No, hold on, those are the cloying lyrics from the title song to the 1970 film version of Erich Segal’s novella, written at the end of the previous year.
But whereas the movie was overwrought with the kind of sickening sentimentality that is signalled in that song, Howard Goodall’s gorgeous new chamber musical (which wittily briefly quotes it melodically) is finely wrought instead with an aching sensitivity as it replays the same story about love in the face of premature death.
If that summary would usually require a spoiler alert before stating it so baldly, the show itself announces it in its opening number. But Goodall and book writer and co-lyricist Stephen Clark don’t just dwell on the expected and inevitable facts of the death of its heroine at the age of 25.
It is fully 90 minutes into a 110 minute show before we get to that, leukaemia will claim her body, but not before she has worked her way into your heart.
Two years ago, Chichester Festival Theatre launched the pre-West End tour of another leukaemia-based show, Calendar Girls, that even now continues to tour long after.
But while that show hitched a charity ride, in every sense, to its subject, Love Story has a much more interesting texture and real feeling.
That’s provided partly thanks to the searing emotional wash of Goodall’s magnificent melodies. He may have lately come into his own as Classic FM’s composer-in-residence, but with musicals like The Hired Man and The Dreaming (for the National Youth Music Theatre), he has long been the best hope for original British musicals since Lloyd Webber.
But while that lord and master of modern musicals won’t shut up, Goodall has learnt the added lesson that the music can stop - there are real book scenes here to also propel the drama.
Both music and book are given equal heft by a company led by Emma Williams, who brings an emotional intelligence to match the lyrical quality of her rapturous singing, and Michael Xavier as her dashing husband.
After the current disaster of the Menier importing Paradise Found from the US, it’s a joy to find paradise instead in a homegrown original musical at Chichester.