by Emily Dodi
Love is a funny thing. It is also awkward, sweet, lusty and totally bonkers. Maybe that’s why we keep falling for it, whether we leap into it or stumble in half-blind. Surely this love of love is partly the reason I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music by Jimmy Roberts, ran for more than 5,000 performances during its heyday off-Broadway. Now the musical that triumphs in making us feel good while laughing at ourselves and the sweet absurdity of love is wooing audiences at the Elite Theatre in Oxnard.
The musical is made up of vignettes that showcase a variety of standard themes: first-date disasters, waiting for someone to call, meeting the parents, dealing with kids and even picking someone up at a funeral. The two acts are separated into a sort of “before and after,” with Act 1 focusing on the ups and downs of dating, and Act 2 centering on marriage, divorce and finding love later in life.
With a light and skillful touch, Erin Fagundes directs a wonderfully talented cast that includes Daniel Jared Hersh, Janelle Phaneuf, Courtney Potter and David White. Each cast member plays a variety of roles, ranging from wide-eyed young lovers and weary parents to contented middle-aged partners and seniors starting over. All have strong voices and their comic timing is spot-on. They each possess a gift for bringing out the lighthearted as well as the mischievous in the material, and their energy is infectious. Everyone shines throughout the production but a few moments standout. Phaneuf’s performance of “I Will Be Loved Tonight” is heartbreakingly bittersweet. Playing a newly divorced woman, Potter commands a swath of emotions that ring true in “The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz.” (Technical director Pat Lawler sets up a clever bit of business as Potter sits onstage while her real-time video is projected behind her.) Hersh is hilarious throughout but it is the scene in which he sings the tender “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love With You” that resonates most. White’s performance of a guy suffering through a chick flick in “Tear Jerk” is adorable as he dissolves from macho to mush-ball.
There are 19 vignettes in all, including the prologue and epilogue, which clocks the show at almost two hours. The production might certainly take up an entire evening but it is well worth it. The cast and the crew, including director Fagundes, assistant director Elena Mills and music director Noreen Smith, manage to make this venerable play feel fresh again. Fagundes and Mills created sets that are spartan enough to morph from one vignette to another and also serve to produce a host of props (managed by Carolyn Luu) at the blink of an eye. Lighting designer Tom Eubanks and lighting assistant Pat Lawler create an ever-changing ambience, from prison rec room to city cafe and beyond.
Except for a cell phone, there isn’t much in the way that highlights the distinctive way love finds itself in 2016. In other words, within the context of the play, Tinder might as well be something you use for firewood. But that’s OK. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change doesn’t have to be timely. It’s timeless.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change through March 26 at Elite Theatre, 2731 Victoria Ave., Oxnard. For more information, call 483-5118 or visit www.elitetheatre.org.