Going back and remembering your romantic history isn’t always a pretty picture—but that’s exactly what singer Mary Leaphart does in her new show Pretty Messy Love, now playing at DC’s Capital Fringe Festival. A cabaret-style performance consisting mostly of songs by contemporary musical theatrercomposers, Pretty Messy Love is a richly illustrated portrait of one woman’s romantic coming-of-age.
Leaphart frames her set with the love stories she was raised on: Disney princes and her parents who adored each other. She then details her own more complex experiences with love, from her awkward teenage romances to her years of online dating.
Although the idea of breaking down the “perfect love story” is nothing new, director Steven Cupo and Leaphart have smartly curated songs that trace a unique romantic awakening. Stories are kept PG (she mostly hints at sexuality instead of discussing it), but there are still enough intriguing details in Leaphart’s life to keep the audience interested.
Aided by the excellent pianist and musical director Jeff Hamlin, Leaphart brings a tender and confident assurance to her singing. While a few of her high notes don’t always soar, she has excellent command of her lower register along with sly comedic instincts. Leaphart brings a particularly lovely wistfulness to the songs “My Heart Was Set on You” and “Stars and the Moon.” Those songs hinge on bridges that reconsider everything sung before, and Leaphart skillfully acts the contemplation needed to bring the tunes to life.
By the end of the show, Leaphart has arrived at a messier but more fully realized vision of love. She’s also achieved a more fully realized performance: towards the end of her set, Leaphart performs a song traditionally sung by a man, imagining what her partner would sing to her. It’s this rush of both empathy and self-actualization that makes “Pretty Messy Love” worth seeing.
Running Time: 60 minutes, no intermission.
Pretty Messy Love plays five times from July 14 to 24, 2022, at REPRESENTATION – Formerly Washington Sports Club, 3270 M Street NW, Washington, DC. To see the performance schedule and purchase tickets ($15), go online.
COVID Safety: The audience is to remain masked for the show. The mask needs to cover your mouth and nose the whole time. Proof of vaccination and ID are checked before entry.
2022 Capital Fringe Preview: ‘Pretty Messy Love’ by Mary Leaphart
Age appropriateness: Recommended for children 13 + older