What do you do when you have picked Dessa Rose for your season, but have trouble casting the show? If you are Spotlighters Theatre you pick a musical named I Love you, You’re perfect, Now change and stage it in five weeks. Yes, you read that right. A musical mounted in five weeks! That is not a lot of time for a cast of six to learn a musical. I looked at the program and read that there more than a dozen songs in this production. I was both impressed of and scared for the ensemble as I took my seat in the audience.
I Love you, You’re perfect, Now change is known for being the second longest running Off-Broadway musical of all time behind the Fantasticks. It ran for 12 years from 1996-2008 and I’d never heard of it, but musicals really aren’t my thing. To be be honest part of the reason I wanted to see the show was because I’d never hear of it. The Spotlighters Theatre production is the second production ever of I Love you, You’re perfect, Now change in its current iteration. The book and music were recently updated in 2017 with the eye on integrating current references like Trump, smartphones, and internet dating. Nice touch.
I’d call I Love you, You’re perfect, Now change an anthology series on love. Each scene was its own little capsule and showcased the vicissitudes of dating and relationships. This show unveiled the full range of love from dating, “waiting for him to call”, dick pics, unsatisfying sex, weddings, babies, divorce and death. Act 1 was about the perils of dating and Act 2 was all about the “afterlife” of marriage. Act 1, although longer than Act 2, moved at a pretty good clip so I didn’t realize it had already been an hour plus by the time we reached intermission. It reminded me of that electric feeling of meeting someone new and getting lost in the action. But Act 2 dragged a little bit. The pace of songs were a bit slower and the energy starting to wane. Just like marriage. That was a joke. I’m sure my spouse would appreciate that.
This was a true ensemble production. The six actors played 61 distinct characters and they did extremely well at portraying each character with individual flair and distinction. The flurry of wig and costume changes helped, but it was the actors who really brought out the nuances of the characters they performed. Each cast member was showcased in a solo or duet and you could tell that they supported each other and were having tons of fun on stage.
Mr. Rob Walls’ deep, booming voice echoed throughout the small black box theater. It was full of character and resonated in my ears. He exuded energy and a playfulness into each of the characters he performed. I especially enjoyed his performance in the songs “Tear Jerk” and “Shouldn’t I be Less in Love with You.” Ms. Linae’ Bullock’s stage presence was engaging. I felt her character’s emotions in her sweet, clear, and soulful voice. She had a grounded yet light quality about her. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her on stage especially as Diane in the solo “I Will be Loved Tonight.”All I can say about Ms. Carly M. Henderson is what a voice! This actress’ strong vocals and fun stage presence were infectious. She shined as the awkward divorcee Rose Ritz trying to get back into the dating game in the scene “The very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz.” Mr. Andrew Grossman was best as the nerdy “stud” Jason in the song “A Stud and a Babe” and Ms. Shaneia Stewart cheekily captured the annoyance of being a perpetual bridesmaid in the honkey-tonk rendition of “Always a Bridesmaid” with Ms. Amy Bell. Speaking of Ms. Bell, she effortlessly morphed into every character that she played. She was fully committed and I enjoyed seeing her as the shy nerdy girl or the overbearing mother or the weary housewife. Well done ensemble!
The technical aspects of this production were well coordinated and effectively supported the action on stage. Let me just say, I really liked the lighting. Yes, I’m one of those nerds who enjoys the technical stuff. The lighting was never too harsh or too dark and it flowed and moved with the actors on stage. The coloring set the emotional mood and rounded out the scene beautifully. Kudos to lighting designers Mr. Ty Miller and Mr. Fuzz Roark for creating this world with just a couple light bulbs and some gels.
Girl, I was wigging out over all of the wigs that were used in this production! They were just the right touch thanks to costume supervisor Ms. Julia Golbey. Ms. Golby, with sourcing from the cast, pieced together costumes that were ordinary, and I mean that as a compliment. The characters themselves represented the “every man and every woman” and the costumes showcased this normalcy. Sixty-one characters means 61 costume changes so the fact that the costumes were simple and easy made the transitions work.
Mr. Alan Zemla’s set was simple and functional and consisted of window seats affixed to the four Spotlighters pillars and six brightly colored boxes with hinges. The boxes were moved around the stage to resemble a car or a living room or a bed and held several of the props. The floor was painted to resemble hardwood and images of the stages of relationships were painted on the far walls. Speaking of props and set, I’d like to give a special shout-out to the stage manager Ms. N.J. Saroff. She was running and working hard to make sure the boxes were placed on stage in the right configuration and that the props were pulled and ready. She was a one woman run crew and she kept the transitions moving at a quick pace.
Musical director Ms. Mandee Ferrier Roberts got the actors to gel musically as much as humanly possible in five weeks and she should be applauded. She was also jamming out on the keyboard during all of the upbeat, peppy songs. Violinist Ms. Jane Pelton played beautifully and rocked the pit along side Ms. Roberts. I never knew a keyboard and a violin could sound so full, and complete the musical tone of the show. Bravo to the minimalist pit! They brought life to the book and music which were the highlights of this production. A show that has the word “penis” and “fuck” is bound to be a fun time. The book was funny, no-nonsense, blunt, straightforward, “tell it like it is girl” and it didn’t hold back. It felt as though the inner consciousness of each of the characters were laid out for display and I smiled or nodded in approval to many of the songs in the show.
The actors fully embodied the lyrics and captured the awkward, confusing, mine-field of relationships in this production wonderfully. As a group they were good, but some of the individual performances needed some improvement ,and the skill level was unevenly matched among the cast. And you know what, that’s okay. They made up for it in enthusiasm, energy, and character building. Some of this may have been a symptom of a short rehearsal period so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. My hat goes off to these brave souls. I’m sure that with a few more shows under their belts they will improve and grow together as an ensemble. Overall, the Spotlighers Theatre production of I Love you, You’re perfect, Now change was a fun and entertaining commentary on love, relationships and how they mess with our minds and hearts. There was one line that I think embodied the show perfectly. “Find someone to love and spend the rest of your life trying to change them.” Sounds about right.
Should I stay or should I go? Go see this show if you’ve ever had a break up, a one-night stand, a marriage, a divorce, or if relationships confuse the hell out of you. Which covers pretty much everyone in the city of Baltimore. This musical was zany, silly, and heartwarming all at once. Take the night to laugh, cringe and remember that guy or girl you dated back in the day or reflect on your current relationship. But give the show a few more runs so they can iron out some of the kinks and evolve a little bit more. Like a fine wine, the show needs a little time to breathe in order to be just right. (Z)
Now through April 22nd. Running time: approximately 2 hours and 20 mins with one 15 minute intermission.