Joe DePietro and Jimmy Roberts's enormously successful off-Broadway musical I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change! is a fun bit of fluff that's supposed to be a great date show. Maybe that's because the world of love and marriage, as depicted here, looks about as deep and dark as the waters of a backyard pool. There are girls who can't find a decent man to date, married folks who can't make the time for sex, and guys who watch too much football -- and each group snugs neatly into an amusing little tune. The play, now playing at the Great Caruso Dinner Theater, gets its audience smiling and nodding in agreement as the songs skip like pretty stones over the glassy surface of love.
Put together like a revue, the musical has no central narrative other than the story of the middle-class American Every-Relationship. Told in short vignettes, most of which are punctuated by song, it features a tiny cast of four (all charming and intelligent singers on the night I went) who inhabit a predictable handful of characters looking for love.
After the energetic opening, in which all four cast members rush about, madly primping and prepping for a date, the lights focus in on one couple for "Cantata for a First Date," one of the strongest and most biting moments in the show. Two harried people (Onyie Nwachukwu and Kregg Dailey) are out for the first time. Tired and fed up with the whole scene, they stumble on a bright idea: Why not skip the awkwardness of the first night out, the letdown of sex on the third, and everything else that follows? Instead, they head straight to that moment they meet on the street, long after the relationship is over, and look longingly at each other with sweet regret. After it's over, one exclaims, "What a great date!"
So begins the soft humor that stitches together the show's tunes. The best are also the least predictable. In "I Will Be Loved Tonight," a woman (Holland Vavra) thrills at the notion of the first night of sex with a new lover. The song is surprisingly tender, and Vavra brings to the scene a womanly humor laced with melancholy. In "Marriage Tango," Nwachukwu and Brandon Peters gleefully don sexy underthings to dance and sing about how the kids have been put to bed, the bills have been paid, the chores have been finished and they're at last "going to have sex!"
"The Very First Dating Video of Rosie Ritz" is both sad and funny, and in many ways it rings the truest of all the scenes in the show. It features Vavra as a fortysomething woman who's been left by her husband of many years. On her own, she gets a lousy telemarketing job and makes a video for a dating service in which she confesses everything unattractive about herself. The funniest sketch might be "Always a Bridesmaid," in which Nwachukwu makes fun of all the hideous dresses she's worn: One "gown was velourish" and made her "look sort of whorish"; she also once "wore taffeta. You should never/ People will laugh at ya."
Less successful are the songs that depend on all-too-familiar stereotypes. "I Can Live with That" deals with an old couple who meet at a funeral. They talk about salami, their dead spouses and where to shop for a fair deal. "A Stud and a Babe" features a geeky, glasses-wearing couple who wish they were more attractive to the opposite sex, until they discover each likes the other just fine, thank you very much.
Even with the weaker moments, there's enough humor to move the show quickly along, and the performers are so strong that they manage to infuse even the lamest jokes with energy. Jimmy Phillips's direction makes good use of the performance space at the dinner theater. The singers move about the tables and create tiny stages wherever they can in the tight little venue.
Add up all these good qualities and you've got a perfectly pleasant, if utterly safe, night of theater. It's no wonder this show is touted as great for dates. If love is as hard to find as the musical implies, it might be a good idea to keep the boat in shallow waters at the beginning of any potential relationship.
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