Stages puts family dysfunction back into Christmas with I Love You.
Stages puts family dysfunction back into Christmas with I Love You.
Bruce Bennett

Merry Sex Mess

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, a grown-up bit of holiday fare written by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts, is a crowd-pleasing revue that sparkles like a tree full of Christmas lights. It's the sort of musical that elicits audible giggles at the funny parts and whispers of "isn't that sweet" during its many winsome moments. Though its hackneyed message contains no more depth or meaning than a greeting card, this amusing little musical deals with the most familiar, and perhaps most wonderful, of all conflicts: the impossibly difficult gender divide.

As the lights come up in Stages' production, a Godlike voice booms through the theater, ringing with a lightweight irony that sets the tone for the entire production. A series of one-liners attributed to the Almighty bemoan the tribulations of loving and living with the opposite sex. And what better place to start bemoaning than with that most unfortunate of all social obligations: the first date. All the rigmarole we endure in an effort to impress is brought to life in "Cantata for a First Date." The show's remarkably chipper cast of four -- Joanne Bonasso, Casey Burden, Jeffrey Gimble and Pippa Winslow -- primp and spruce and worry across the stage as they sing out their first-date jitters.

A bit more cynical and amusing is the "Not Tonight, I'm Busy, Busy, Busy," in which Winslow and Gimble meet and declare that in this age of high-powered careers, Palm Pilots and cell phones, they are entirely too busy for first dates. With that in mind, they speed through a yearlong relationship in a single song, skipping "the first date" and the "first fight," racing straight toward to the moment they've been "broken up for a year." They later meet up at Whole Foods. She's alone, he's with someone else, and they end up gazing longingly at each other over groceries.


I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

runs through January 2 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway,

(713)527-0220. $26-$37.

And so this musical goes, marching through a minefield of silly problems, including hideous bridesmaids' dresses, boorish new mommies and daddies, parental sex as kids sleep in the next room, angry middle-aged divorced women and old-age love.

Many of the songs are too clichéd to hold much interest. Winslow and Bonasso bemoan the fact that a good man is hard to find in "The Single Man Drought." In the homage to pop psychology, "Men Who Talk and the Women Who Pretend They're Listening," one man declares that Caddyshack is the best movie of all time, while at the next table over a nerdish, pocket-protector-wearing engineer drones on and on about his "fascinating" work.

Some of the show, however, charts at least somewhat fresh territory. With "Marriage Tango," Burden and Winslow slink about the stage, longing for one private moment, singing, "I'm married and I'm gonna have sex!" The charming tune underscores the ultimate irony of married life: Kids, in-laws and work all seem to conspire to grind the romance out of committed love. And in the most moving moment of the night Burden sweetly sings about love among the aged with "Shouldn't I Be Less In Love with You."

Though some will surely find all this too precious, the performers are competent, the set with its multiple moving parts is clever, music director Steven Jones gets an impressive sound from his tiny ensemble (a mere piano and a violin), and director Laura Josepher keeps things breezing along. If there are bosses or in-laws or neighbors to entertain this holiday season, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change is a very safe present indeed.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Changeruns through January 2 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, (713)527-0220. $26-$37.


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