I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change boasts the second longest off-Broadway run of a musical in history, bested only by The Fantastiks, with just over 5,000 performances from 1996-2008. Its creators, Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and Jimmy Roberts (music), have prolific careers, with Joe DiPietro in particular going on to win Tony Awards, a Drama Desk Award, and Outer Critics Circle Awards. DiPietro’s Broadway credits alone include Nice Work If You Can Get It, Tony Award-winning Memphis, All Shook Up, and Living on Love.
And yet, despite all of the cachet attached to I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and its creators, I do not like this show.
I Love You has been translated into multiple languages; it has been performed all over the world and in every state in the USA. There is a reason for this. It’s easy. It’s easy to produce, requiring a minimum of four actors, minimal sets, and minimal orchestra. It’s easy for the audience to digest, depending on well-worn tropes for every moment of storytelling. Its portrayal of the mating habits of the basic heterosexual is unimaginative, trite, even stereotypical. It says nothing new on the subject; it neither challenges nor illuminates.
Also, for a show lauded as a “celebration of…that contemporary conundrum known as ‘the relationship,’” I Love You ignores all non-cis orientations, except as a brief joke in one of the vignettes. Is LGBTQ content required for a show about modern, romantic relationships? No. Writers must be personally passionate about what they write, and not every show has to include a representation of every person. However, to not include even an acknowledgment of LGBTQ relationships seems the opposite of “contemporary” at best, and intentionally blind to the real world at worst.
So, there you have it. I don’t like this show. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand its appeal or appreciate it as a vehicle for showcasing performers. With that in mind, let’s look at Comtra Theatre’s production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which opened Friday, January 5, 2017.
All in all, this was a solid community theater production. Comtra expanded the basic cast requirement to include ten hardworking amateur performers. Some minor unevenness in skill levels in both acting and singing was noticeable among the cast, but nothing that unbalanced the production as a whole.
There were particularly strong female singers in the company, with Samantha Christou, Veronica Mortier, and Shelly Schuster leading the ensemble with that clear, bright, sharp-edged, musical-theater soprano that is so pleasing to the ear. Veronica Mortier was particularly notable for her technical mastery and consistency. Samantha Christou had some beautiful high notes. Also of note, Joe Moeller’s quiet tenor was responsible for one of the high points of the production, with his tender, understated performance of “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love with You” in Act II.
I had mixed feelings about the directing of this production. Director Johnny Gallagher did a good job of moving the actors around the stage and creating interesting stage pictures in a proscenium configuration. Unfortunately, the stage was set up in a three-quarter thrust configuration, not proscenium. Since the staging often did not take this into account, the audience members on the two sides of the thrust stage often missed important moments of the show. In addition, the thrust configuration for the performance in and of itself was disappointing to me, since the theater is set up as a permanent theater-in-the-round. I wish Mr. Gallagher would have embraced the in-the-round challenge when staging this show.
Conductor Matt Brown competently helmed the musical end of the production. The singers were well supported by Mr. Brown on keyboards and Shawn Bliss on violin and mini harp. A second highlight of the production was Mr. Bliss’s violin solo moment during the entr’acte of Act II.
I had a lot of issues with the lighting and the sound. The lighting just wasn’t right. Most of the instruments focused directly down on the actors’ heads, resulting in the actors’ faces being almost constantly in shadow. Likewise, the attempt at area miking was not successful. The few times a microphone actually picked up a performer’s voice, it was disruptive and definitely not needed. The multitude of costumes used in the production seemed to have been supplied mostly by the actors themselves, so, good on you, actors. And I wish the program would have acknowledged the scenic artist for the show, since the painting on the rehearsal boxes used as primary set pieces and the stenciling on the pizza boxes used in “He Called Me”was nicely done and deserve commendation.
If I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change seems like a show for you, Comtra Theatre’s production runs weekends through January 20, 2017. You can find out more at www.comtratheatre.org.