By James V RuoccoSingle men.
Suburban married life.
Sonograms and slide shows.
Wakes and funerals.
Phone calls, break ups, deadly conversations, bridesmaids, sports talk and spending the night alone.
In "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," the smash off-Broadway musical about late 20th century relationships that ran for 5,003 performances at N.Y's Westside Theatre, those topics and others are hilariously addressed in full, unadulterated glory in Connecticut Cabaret Theatre's buoyant, high-spirited, big-hearted revival.
"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" is a sweet-sounding musical diversion with a let's-have-fun concept and plotline designed solely to entertain, dish out tart one-liners, serve up hummable songs and get you laughing, laughing and laughing.
Its message: the discovery and embracement of one's authentic self with equal wants and wises.
As written by Joe DiPietro, the two-act musical unfolds through a series of happy, lighthearted song-and sketch vignettes, aptly matched to segments titled "Not Tonight," "Busy, Busy, Busy," "Tear Jerk," "The Lasagna Incident," "Satisfaction Guaranteed," "Whatever Happened to Baby's Parents?" "Sex and the Married Couple," "Funerals Are for Dating," and many others.
Staging "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," director Kris McMurray crafts a smooth, steadied musical romp that amuses, surprises and slaps you silly with its cheerful, well-choreographed diversity. Given the show's simplistic framework and swift-evolving scenic musings, McMurray takes tight reign of the material and shakes and stirs it to perfection, offering a plethora of different scenarios that glide merrily along capturing the intended wit, energy and accountability dictated by the play script.
What's especially nice about this production is that McMurray lets each segment build and evolve naturally in real time. Nothing is rushed. Nothing is overplayed. Nothing is thrown in to get that extra laugh or two. Nothing bears the slightest hint of calculation or repetition. McMurray is much to clever for that. He also doesn't go for the obvious. Here, as in the recent "The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged)," he lets the material speak for itself and find it's own special brand of humor. Yes, he helps it along from time to time. Yes, he knows exactly how to get a laugh. Yes, he takes his cast of four though the paces. Yes, he knows what buttons to push. The good news is that you never really see it coming, which, in turn, keeps things always fresh and exciting.
Another plus about this production is the fluidity of it all.
As the musical evolves, the quartet of actors involved are asked to change characters and costumes at the drop of a hat, a belt and a buckle or a pair of high heels and sneakers. It's a crazy concept that requires everyone to switch gears immediately and plunge headfirst into the show's powder-keg of different people and personalities without hesitation. One false move and it's over - just like that. Luckily, that never happens here. McMurray, decided showman that he is, has everything timed to the millisecond (on stage and off), which keeps things merrily in perspective. It's that kind of gamesmanship that keeps "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" spinning as McMurray uses various comic ploys and maneuvers to give the material added weight and perspective. He succeeds swimmingly.
"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" features 21 songs, written by Jimmy Roberts (music) and Joe DiPietro (lyrics). They are: "Prologue," "Cantata for a First Date," "We Had it All," "A Stud and a Babe," "Single Man Drought," "Why? 'Cause I'm a Guy," "Tear Jerk," "I Will be Loved Tonight," "Hey There, Single Gal/Guy," "He Called Me," "Wedding Vows," "Cantata Reprise," "Always a Bridesmaid," "The Baby Song," "Marriage Tango," "On the Highway of Love," "Waiting Trio," "Shouldn't I Be Less in Love With You?" "I Can Live With That," "Epilogue" and "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."
All of them are smartly connected to the book's "relationship and love" conceit and bring a plot-driven sense of pulse and musicality to the piece, enriched by witty lyrics, playful exchanges and plushly orchestrated sounds, tones and movements. Nothing is out of place. Nothing is thrown in to make the musical longer than it is. Everything is exactly right for every vignette each song is connected too and the different characters who are asked to bring them vividly to live.
At the piano, CJ Janis, the orchestral alternate for musical director TJ Thompson, plays the score exactly as written, reveling in its rhapsodic dimensions, artistic tilts and thematic threads. A brilliant, animated pianist with a take-charge yet relaxed artistry similar in style and technique to the late musical great Richard DeRosa, Janis, assisted by Jean Conners on the violin, has remarkable lucidity and breadth, headlong energy and savvy, poetic flight. In turn, the music he unleashes is crisp and snappy, true and sparkling and always mindful of the elaboration of themes set forth by the musical's originators.
As a musician, Janis is also cognizant of the actor's themselves, their relationship to the story, the songs they have to sing and the scene-by-scene evolution of the piece over a two act time frame. Whereas some musicians simply play the music in tandem arrangement, thus, forcing the singers to stay in completely sync with the band, Janis, instead, follows his singers, allowing them to take a breath or two and grasp the intended meaning of the music they are about to sing or continue singing. In turn, things unfold with a more relaxed, spontaneous , natural feel, which is exactly the case here.
Under the expert musical supervision of Thompson, the stellar "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" cast fills the small, intimate stage of the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre with confident, full-bodied singing, matched vocally by the right spirit, strength, volume, contour, tone and sentiment. They don't just sing the songs, they make them their own. Under Thompson's tutelage, the harmonies are lush and sweet-sounding, the duets are solos are ripe with freshness and emotional warmth and everything else hops, skips and resonates with decided purpose and musical showmanship.
No strangers to musical theatre or comedy, all four are exceptionally fine performers with impeccable comic timing, personalities and improvisational versatility who adapt freely and effortlessly to the mounting mayhem of the piece, its sentimentality, its romanticism, its whimsy and its quick-change artistry. They are polished. They are funny. They are musical. They never once drop character or lose sight of what's going on around them. They interact and intertwine engagingly. And vocally, they are solid, diverse singers with beautiful voices, song styles and phrasing that connect and compliment the songs they are asked to sing together, alone or as a duet.
"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" is a sweet and sentimental look at love, romance, marriage and dating. It is pleasant and diverting. It is performed by an extremely talented cast of four, all of whom have fine, pitch-perfect singing voices and a wide-open acting range. The music is heartfelt and pleasurable. Kris McMurray's wistful, carefree direction is full of warmth and wit, which makes the show pulse with feeling. It does that and so much more with a fine flourish.
"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" is being staged at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre (31-33 Webster Square Rd., Berlin, CT), now through June 15.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 829-1248.