Review: Musical comedy revue derives humor from familiarity

Sunday 09.26

  • 2:30pm :: I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change
  • more info

And you thought courtship and mating rituals on the National Geographic channel were bizarre.

Lawrence Community Theatre's production of "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" proves the rest of the animal kingdom's got nothing on its absurd Homo sapiens cousin.

Love, marriage and children seem to suck the rationality straight out of our ears.

Now in its ninth season at New York's Westside Theatre, this ode to heterosexual love by Joe DiPietro (lyrics and book) and Jimmy Roberts (music) is the longest running off-Broadway musical currently playing.

In Lawrence Community Theatre's version of the musical comedy revue, a four-person cast -- Sarah Young, Rick Bixler, Jennifer Wesco and Patrick Kelly -- portray 60-plus characters (That's a mind-boggling 15 roles each, with all the requisite costume and accent changes). The show takes audiences on a mad cavort from first date to dating after the death of a spouse and all the heartwarming, heartbreaking and nerve-racking stuff in between.

Cast members, under the direction of Terrance McKerrs, carry off the hilariously honest characters -- who say things most men and women wouldn't want people to know they were thinking -- with energy that rarely falls flat.

Laughs came early on opening night. Young and Kelly enacted a strictly spoken scene that poked fun at Americans' ridiculously busy schedules and their fear of rejection by having a man and woman on their very first date decide to skip ahead to the second date, then the third, then sex, then the morning after and all the other predictable milestones in a relationship.

Often, just the names of the scenes -- flashed to the audience on two television screens built into either end of the set panel -- elicited guffaws. That was true with "Men Who Talk and the Women Who Pretend They're Listening." Young and Wesco get stuck on dates with men who can't stop yacking about engineering and golf. In musical asides, the women lament their plights with lines like, "Standards, I used to have standards" and "Lesbian, I should have been a lesbian."

Then the men got their turn in "Why? 'Cause I'm a Guy," in which their gender itself became the answer to women who would question what they were quite proud to profess: that they are "hockey-loving," "jock-itching," "belching," "never-stop-to-ask-directions" guys.

The "Wedding Vows" scene was one of the rare weak moments in the performance. Otherwise-strong vocalists were outmatched by rollicking piano accompaniment and too-hectic choreography.

In "Always a Bridesmaid," Wesco's alternation between sweet, pure tones and Southern twangy ones proved a bit distracting, but her charming portrayal of the willing third wheel helped make up for the inconsistency. Kelly's robust baritone never missed a beat in songs that ranged in mood from raucous to tender and quiet. Young shined in a lucid, heartfelt rendition of "I Will Be Loved Tonight." And Bixler delivered a knockout tenor solo with his "Shouldn't I Be Less in Love with You?"

Another highlight was Kelly and Wesco's portrayals of an elderly Jewish man and woman, both widowed, who meet at a funeral wake for someone they don't even know. They rattle off their differences in a musical journey toward understanding that loving again after a spouse has died isn't deplorable; it's just human.

Live music by pianist Mary Baker, violinist Charlene Potter and bassist Dustin Mustard added a dynamic backdrop for the vocalists, as did Jack Riegle's simple set, with its faux-painted back panel, lighted male and female symbols, multiple entry points and pared-down furniture rotated in to set scenes.

Apart from a few harsh spots, lighting design by Nathan Hughes expertly set the ever-changing moods in the production. And costume designer Annette Cook gets a nod for the sheer number of outfits she created for the show.

It's a safe bet you'll laugh more at this production than you have during any previous theater experience. And the strangest part is, you'll be laughing at yourself, because there's no way not to relate to at least one of the characters or scenarios in "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."

And that's the best kind of comedy there is.

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