Musical revues have been quite popular, especially in recent years. They are not really plays—there's no plot or story as a whole; they are a compilation of songs built around a theme, or even the work of a particular composer/lyricist. Requiring much less "production" than regular musical theater pieces, they are perfect for smaller theater companies using small, intimate theater spaces.
The folks at the fairly new Roadrunner Theatre Company have found a clever piece and a cast that makes sure that we thoroughly enjoy the cleverness. I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change looks at the rites of dating, marriage and parenthood and beyond, something a whole lot of us find ourselves participating in at some point in our lives. Heaven knows these relationships provide no dearth of material to sing about, ranging from raucous humor to scalding anger and bitterness to winsome sweetness.
With book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music by Jimmy Roberts, the show opened in New York off-Broadway in 1996 and became the second longest running musical off-Broadway, closing in 2008 after over 5,000 performances. It has been translated into numerous languages and has been produced in countries around the world, including Istanbul, Beijing and Moscow. They've obviously found a subject folks can relate to.
A lot has changed in the world of heterosexual relationships since 1996, but the revue barely gives a nod to a more contemporary style of courting, bedding and wedding. There is a song that involves smart phones and one about online dating that provide a few updated tweaks, but when you come down to it, nothing substantial has changed.
The revue bounces along in a somewhat chronological order of how we experience the highs and lows of lives and relationships. We start at the beginning with the often pathetic rituals of dating, move on to the challenges of marriage and wind up taking a look at romance in our later years.
What makes musical revues succeed is the quality of the cast, and particularly their vocal prowess. Roadrunner gives us a really, really good one. Jose "Chach" Snook, Jodi Darling, Kelli Workman and Tyler Wright have got it going on. They are skilled singers and competent enough actors that we gladly follow where they lead. In different combinations, these folks show us a variety of characters in a variety of situations, each of which feels right on.
Each song in a revue is really a little musical play. Characters must be established and a story told in each. That's a considerable amount of storytelling compressed in three or four minutes. And although depth of character is hardly a requirement, each song needs the performers to distill the essence of the song's story and play it out so that it's clear and contributes to the cumulative effect of the show. In other words, although the cast makes it look easy, it ain't. It's a challenge not necessarily demanded by other genres. These guys excel. Of course, most of the fun of a show like this involves our recognizing ourselves (and perhaps others close to us) in these characters and scenes. We recognize the awkwardness of suggesting a date after a tennis game while revealing the goal is sex in "I Will Be Loved Tonight." In "Satisfaction Guaranteed," sex is not only consensual but contractual as the Law Firm of Jacoby and Myers and Masters and Johnson provides the force of law in assuring happy sexual encounters. Snook and Workman give us lots of laughs as overworked parents trying to find time for a moment for themselves in "Marriage Tango." Darling perhaps reveals too much of who she is as she makes "The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz."
Of course, a musical revue couldn't happen without music, and music director Geoff Gale on keyboards and Callie Hutchinson playing violin and viol contribute every bit of what's needed.
Snook also directs the piece and gets by with what is a tricky task. The revue runs smartly and smoothly, with rarely a misstep. The one thing that bogs us down a bit is the down time between songs, where we sit in darkness as characters run off-stage to change costumes and set pieces for each song are brought onstage and then removed. We are thankful that the technical aspects of the process run smoothly enough here, which is an absolute necessity. But one wonders how this might be handled somewhat differently, so that we are not interrupted frequently from the momentum of the show. Might other ways be possible to help minimize that distraction? My feeling is yes. But the way Snook has chosen to go works well enough.
The technical details scream "on a budget." The set is functional but pretty tacky. The costumes are mostly from the actors' closets and work well enough. As Workman sings about the bridesmaid dresses she has accumulated over the years, she performs a modest striptease revealing each horror. (These were most assuredly not from her closet.) (At least we hope not.)
The songs are clever, the singers fine and the subject is ripe for mining humor, sweetness and charm. That adds up to a quite delightful evening.