When Act One of Texas Repertory Theatre’s recent production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” got underway, the dark and somber opening chant from our four co-stars dressed as monks gave no clue to the merriment that lay ahead. With book and lyrics by Joe Dipietro, and music by Jimmy Roberts, the long running New York production is now in its twelfth year of filling the house at the Westside Arts Theatre. Coincidentally, that theater is the same one that housed the Boswell Sisters tribute, “The Heebie Jeebies,” back in the 1980’s. I mention that because that show was my one and only experience as a show business “angel” investor. The project gave me a couple of priceless fun years in the theatrical sphere, with, alas, no return on the investment. Such is life!
Back to the subject at hand, “I Love You…” is a fun-filled package that delightfully celebrates the myriad romantic relationships between men and women. Witty (and often melodic) songs pepper each short vignette, with Music Director, Glenn Sharp, at center stage on the keyboard, and violinists Julia Aldrich and Richard Baum assisting skillfully in performance rotation. They accompany the singers beautifully, and provide tasteful musical interludes during scene changes. The tune, “We Had It All” caps a fanciful encounter between Jennifer Gilbert and Adam Gibbs, as they meet, and decide to skip first and second date awkwardness by moving right on to the third date, the break-up, etc. In the next number, Liz Cascio and Josh Estrada portray an off-beat, nerdy couple, who sing hilariously of their imaginings about being “A Stud and a Babe.” Liz and Jennifer then team for “Single Man Drought,” with each singing their negative and unspoken thoughts about the men they are with. Josh and Adam follow with a riotously macho, “Why? ’Cause I’m A Guy.” In “Tear Jerk,” Jennifer and Adam portray a couple attending a touching movie, as this outwardly-macho guy tries to avoid showing his sensitive side, but breaks down sobbing during a sad scene in the film. Mr. Gibbs, by the way, has a smooth and appealing vocal style that was well-displayed in that number.
In “I Will Be Loved Tonight,” Liz and Josh portray an amorous young couple planning to “do it” for the first time, and Miss Cascio’s vocal delivery was suitably impassioned. And speaking of parents, the foursome then combine forces for the hilarity of a single guy and gal confronting his wedding-expecting parents with the news that they are actually breaking up. What fun! Not only is the amusing script consistently clever and witty, but the rapid-fire pacing under director, Craig A. Miller’s hand, keeps things moving beautifully throughout the performance.
For more great nonsense we have a scene titled, “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” with the full cast portraying Jacoby & Myers and Masters & Johnson, attorneys-at-law who offer law suits while boasting, “If your partner doesn’t get you off, we get you money!” Meanwhile, Miss Cascio shows great solo skill carrying off a lengthy on-stage phone conversation while being joined with the full company for “He Called Me.” The four again combine forces in a nutty prison scene with a lunatic inmate lecturing a group of single people about relationships. The visual appeal of the “Wedding Vows” scene that closes Act One, owes its success to the simple set (designers, Mr. Miller and Michelle Elliott), the fine costumes (designer, Sonia Lerner), and especially to the subtle lighting from designer, Gary C. Echelmeyer.
In Act Two, Jennifer offers a feisty, “Always a Bridesmaid,” that might have worked well in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” and Adam sings the goofy “Baby Talk,” that pokes gentle fun at the way grown-ups communicate with babies. Jennifer and Josh follow with a lusty and hilarious “Marriage Tango,” that celebrates harried and exhausted parents who have finally (maybe) gotten the kids to bed in time for a bit of overdue lovemaking. Then came the fun of “On the Highway of Love,” with our four stars (each in an office chair) rolling in concert about the stage to simulate a family ride in the car. When the dad in the driver seat shouts “Damn it! Don’t make me stop this car!” to the bickering kids in the back seat, I was easily reminded of my own late father.
The “Waiting Trio” segment featured Miss Gilbert as a “football wife” waiting for her sports fan husband’s attentions, Miss Cascio as a desperate woman with an over-stressed bladder, and Mr. Estrada as a desperate husband waiting for his wife to finish their shopping trip to the mall. Estrada, by the way, follows with a solid performance of “Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You?” that while a bit vocally strident was nevertheless dramatically poignant.
And speaking of dramatic, a high point in the show was Cascio’s stunning soliloquy in an alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching scene titled, “The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz.” In a long sequence where Rose describes how her husband “…left me for a size 18 grandmother with a bad hip!”, and how her “…divorce was like open-heart surgery without anesthesia,” Miss Cascio’s considerable skills as an actress were on full display. And there is more wonderful acting from Miss Gilbert and Mr. Adams in “I Can Live With That,” an adorable encounter between to seniors who meet at a funeral home wake. They sing sweetly together, but it was the one point in the show that the talented musicians overwhelmed the dialogue with too much volume.
Finally, the chanting monks return with a final thoughtful caution to us all: “Find someone you love, and then spend the rest of your life trying to change them!”