Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes the Forum Theatre’s new production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”
This romantic, poignant and often clever musical comedy from 1996 explores relationships from dating through marriage, parenthood and beyond.
“It has great public appeal. It crosses all ages and demographics. It has universal themes that everybody recognizes. It’s just simply timeless,” said Kathryn Page Hauptman, producing artistic director for the Forum who is also directing the show. “And it’s very, very funny.”
“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” by Joe DiPietro with music by Jimmy Roberts, is the second-longest-running off-Broadway musical behind “The Fantasticks.” While the themes are timeless, certain details needed to be updated, said Hauptman, who directed “I Love You” previously for Stage One more than a decade ago.
“Video dating was big then, but things have changed quite a bit with all the social networking today, and we are reflecting that,” Hauptman said. “The way people are dating may have changed, but the truths about relationships are still universal. Our stage manager, who is in his 20s, laughed all the way through our first run-through. It’s all still relevant.” The musical is actually a revue with 19 related vignettes rather than one specific storyline.
The show previews at 8 p.m. Thursday and opens at 8 p.m. Friday on Valentine’s Day. It runs through March 9.
Just four players act out DiPietro’s celebration of the mating game: Man 1 and Woman 1 played by Stephen Hitchcock and Sarah Gale McQuery and Man 2 and Woman 2 played by Dylan Lewis and Briley Meek.
Act I explores the frisky – and often risky – journey from dating to love and marriage, while Act II reveals the agonies and ecstasies of in-laws, newborns, trips in the car with hyperactive kids and, ultimately, romance among the geriatric set.
A glimpse at some of the song titles tells all with satirical precision: “Cantata for a First Date,” “Men Who Talk and Women Who Pretend They’re Listening,” “I Will Be Loved Tonight,” “Marriage Tango,” “Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You,” “I Can Live With That” and, of course, the title tune.
Hitchcock, as Man 1, ranges from a nerdy dater to a fearful single to an antsy groom. It’s a role he played in 2005 when he was a theater major at Wichita State.
“What’s most interesting to me is how differently I view some of the things in the show now. When I was a student, I think I concentrated more on making each character different rather than how things were impacting them,” says Hitchcock, most recently seen in the British farce “One Man, Two Guvnors” and as the maliciously charming emcee of “Cabaret,” both for the Forum.
“Now, nine years later, a lot of things are the same in my life – I’m still single and I still don’t have kids – but my own personal experiences, such as how to react to a partner, have colored the way I see the show. It seems truer to me now. I really like it a lot,” Hitchcock said.
By contrast Lewis, as Man 2, plays a macho man during the dating segments and a clergyman marrying a couple. In Act II, he plays a husband with a nagging wife and, at another point, a bratty kid.
Lewis, who declared perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek that “dating is the worst thing in the world,” said he has more fun with later parts of the show involving long-term relationships.
“I have a particular soft spot for the older characters, probably because I work in an assisted living center and see such people every day. I see their connections. They are very sweet,” said Lewis, a 2011 Emporia State theater grad who has won two local Mary Jane Teall acting awards. He is best remembered for the ground-breaking “Spring Awakening” at Crown Uptown and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Cabaret Oldtown.
“While I may not exactly identify personally with some things, what I like about this show is that it’s very clever, very witty with lovely songs that are fun to sing.”
Meek is a Wichita State theater grad who helped launch the world premiere of the original new musical version of “A Christmas Carol” at the Forum and has been a regular at Mosley Street Melodrama for the past two years. She plays Woman 2 with a range that includes an awkward gal who desperately wants to be a “babe,” a bridesmaid, the leader of a singles group, and a hopeless romantic in her twilight years.
“I can identify with the ‘babe’ because that’s pretty much me magnified by 10. I’m known for being geeky and klutzy,” Meek said with a laugh. “There’s a story about me getting chocolate and mustard all over while attending a wedding that my friends will never let me forget.”
McQuery, as Woman 1, describes her character as a “busy, busy, busy businesswoman” who is “meticulous” about her image.
“She’s very focused on looking perfect – hair, makeup, dressing for success,” said McQuery, a 2009 Wichita State theater grad who has been active on local stages such as Music Theatre since age 7. “But she’s been single a long time. She is at the point where she wants to skip first dates and get right to the relationship stage.”
Her anthem is “I Will Be Loved Tonight” as she confronts prospective mates, said McQuery, previously seen as the klutzy princess Winifred in “Once Upon a Mattress” and the fiery Anita of “West Side Story.”
In Act II, other McQuery incarnations deal with marriage, kids and widowhood, including a little flirting at a funeral.
“I’m a married woman now so I’ve already been through a lot of what’s in the early part of the show. I can relate,” she said, adding that the later scenes of older romantics are personally reassuring. “There’s a beautiful song called ‘Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love With You?’ that the man sings to his longtime wife. After 30 or 40 or 50 years of marriage, isn’t that what everybody really wants?”