Regional Reviews: Phoenix
With book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro (Tony winner for Memphis) and music by Jimmy Roberts, a cast of four play a wide range of characters who appear in short vignettes that cover the journey from dating to marriage, with failures and triumphs encountered along the way. The scenes highlight situations that often occur over the course of a relationship. There are instantly relatable moments, even if no one wants to admit to having been in that situation, especially the more comical ones. The show is funny and appeals to both men and women. DiPietro's dialogue is smart, realistic, and charming yet also moving in the more serious scenes. His lyrics are just as good. Unfortunately Roberts' music doesn't fare as well, with none of the songs having any hooks, phrases, or melodies that you'll remember after the curtain call.
Director Brett Aiken has cast a very talented foursome who excel in making the comedic moments funny and the dramatic scenes poignant. While it might seem like nepotism that Aiken cast himself and his wife, Emily Lynne Aiken, they are both exceptional, as are Tracy Payne Black and Andrew Lipman. There aren't any moments where the four don't excel, but here are some of my favorites: Emily Lynne Aiken is moving as Rose Ritz, a woman who films a dating site video while still not quite over the effects of her recent divorce. Also, she and Brett are realistically spontaneous in the first segment about a couple whose first date spirals out of control. Black's clear voice is lovely and loud, giving a nice zing to the comical numbers such as "Always a Bridesmaid" and she uses several different accents, and a series of hilarious wigs, to make each character completely different from the others. Lipman is comically outlandish as a multitude of roles: a man who discovers he actually enjoys "Chick Flicks" and a loud and crazy relationship advice-giving prisoner in "Scared Straight to the Altar." Brett Aiken is funny and touching throughout, but when he portrays an old widower who likes to talk to others and tries to pick up a woman at a funeral, he is revelatory. His shuffling walk, arched over body and way of speaking make you believe he is more than twice his actual age. The four cast members also have nice voices and great chemistry as well as astute facial expressions. They add plenty of thought to their interpretations and hit a range of emotional levels in both the scenes and the songs.
While the space is small, Aiken's staging works well. With just the use of a few tables, some chairs, and a few small set pieces and props, he quickly sets new locales for each scene. Aiken also uses the space well, using the side aisles and entrances for a few moments, and one scene that takes place on a family car trip is exceptionally staged with just the actors on four rolling desk chairs, making the scene realistic and fun. Aiken also has come up with a great idea to use projected cartoons about love and romance during the scene changes to add more humor to the show and not make the scene changes drag. Steve Hilderbrand's music direction achieves lovely sounds from the cast and the two-piece band. Tamara Treat's costumes and Jacob Hamilton's hair and make-up designs are fun and fresh. Note Treat's fun placement of a dryer sheet on the back of a negligee during the scene in which a very tired married couple has found a few spare moments to have sex, but keeps getting interrupted.
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change is far from a perfect musical, but it's still a fun journey through life and the ups and downs of a relationship. It's just too bad the songs aren't as good as the book scenes.
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change runs through February 14th, 2016, at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org or by calling 623-815-7930.
Directed by Brett Aiken