Funny love songs
An energetic take on hilarious off-Broadway musical
There’s a reason why the musical revue I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change ran for more than 5,000 performances off-Broadway between 1996 and 2008—or, rather, several reasons: It’s about modern romance, a subject of interest to just about everyone; it’s fast-paced and musically varied; and, most of all, it’s funny as hell. On the night I saw this Chico Theater Company staging, the audience was in stitches, including yours truly.
The humor wasn’t always entirely comfortable, however. With the exception of a couple of its 20 distinct vignettes, the play (book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro, music by Jimmy Roberts) opts for sharply sardonic humor instead of sentiment, raunchiness instead of romance. There’s an under-the-blanket scene involving cunnilingus (the guy can’t seem to find the target) and another that skewers men who send their women text images of their penises. Both are hilarious, and both are reminders that this play may not be appropriate for youngsters.
Musically, the play runs the gamut from pop tunes and country ditties to bluesy ballads and tango, with accompaniment coming from electric pianist Webster Moore, who is stationed off to the side, stage right. His playing was as unobtrusive as it was spot-on. And all four of the actors have good singing voices, especially the two women; weak singing is the downfall of many community theater musicals, but not this one.
Structurally, the play eschews a traditional narrative arc, with a storyline that we follow from beginning to end. Instead, we get a series of short, unique scenes that have the four excellent actors—two men (Jeff Dickenson and Casson Scowcroft) and two women (Jennifer Davis and Kelsi Fossum-Trausch)—making quick costume and set changes that enable each of them to take on a dozen or more roles.
There is a structure of sorts. It follows the trajectory of romance from Adam and Eve through the geriatric set. With such songs as “A Stud and a Babe,” Act I is all about uptown romance leading to marriage, while Act II, with songs such as “On the Highway of Love,” zeroes in on married life in suburbia. One scene in particular was especially touching. In it two long-marrieds (played by Scowcroft and Davis) are sitting at the breakfast table, reading the newspaper. He looks at her and wonders in song whether, after 30 years of ups and downs, “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love with You?” No, he says, and it’s obvious he loves her more than ever.
Dickenson, who also co-directs (with CTC founder Marc Edson), is a veteran of local theater, having appeared in, directed, sung in or wielded a hammer doing set construction in dozens of productions over the years. This vast experience serves him well here, as he fleshes out his many roles with clever bits of business that add greatly to the humor.
The playbook describes Scowcroft as “a newcomer to the stage,” but also someone who has conducted the music for a dozen productions. He holds four degrees from Chico State in music and French and teaches music at Red Bluff High School. For a relative newbie in theater, he does quite well here, creating his many insta-characters with flair and keeping up with his more experienced colleagues.
But it was the two women who stole the show. When they were on stage, Davis and Fossum-Trausch dominated, singing up a storm and giving “the fairer sex” some very sharp elbows.
I greatly enjoyed this show. You will too.