I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 17th August, 2022
Less of a musical and more of a revue, this show which has enjoyed one of the longest runs in American theatre history, charts, through unconnected scenes, songs and vignettes, the course of love (true, or otherwise) of heterosexual people. When theatre holds up a mirror to life, it either validates what it shows or poses questions. Many people (straight ones) will recognise something of themselves in the character types and cliched moments on view, but from a queer perspective, the show takes on a completely different meaning. This is what your lives are like, the show tells straight people, and you are living a narrow nightmare of convention, societal expectations and guilt trips. The laughter of recognition should be followed through by a cringe or two at the very least.
The cast of six (customarily the piece is performed by four) work hard to pull it off, and it requires a certain set of skills to swiftly establish characters and emotions at the drop of a hat. Every member of this sextet has the talent, the skill – and the considerable energy it takes! – to deliver this demanding cavalcade of songs and sketches.
Jimmy Roberts’s score is serviceable rather than memorable, containing a variety of styles. Some standout numbers include I Will Be Loved Tonight performed by Hannah Lyons, and Hey There, Single Gal/Guy in which a pair of disappointed parents lay a guilt trip on their son and his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend.
Recognising the undiluted heteronormativity of the piece, directors Mark Shaun Walsh and Neve Lawler give one of the songs an LGBTQ+ twist, showing that the gays can have long-term relationships too, and have the same fears and doubts as everyone else. The number Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You, is beautifully sung by Walsh, and this feels like one of those moments of validation I talked about. This tweak broadens the scope of the material.
There is also some relief where single life is not depicted as a terrible condition that must be cured as soon as possible: the second act opener Always A Bridesmaid has the wonderful Kimberley Maynard revelling in her independence in a rousing countryfied number.
Some of the material is old hat (men not stopping to ask for directions) but some of it is acutely observant. The monologue of a divorced woman making a dating video is painfully funny and superbly delivered by Hannah Lyons. It also goes to show how the world has moved on from the world of the show, now that apps like Tinder dominate the dating experience. The libretto could do with an update to make it more directly relevant.
The cast take full advantage of this opportunity to showcase their skills: Jack Kirby as a husband and father who has transferred his affections to his car; Luke Plimmer and Anya McCutcheon Wells as a pair of elderly people meeting at a funeral, in the show’s most sentimental sequence. All in all, it’s flawlessly presented, with musical duo Chris Arnold (piano) and Lizi Toney (violin) giving virtuoso performances of the score’s diverse demands.
Given the almost relentless parodying of heterosexuality, I write in the notebook I keep on my knee, “Is the writer gay?”. At home I look up Joe DiPietro. He is. Ten points to me!
An enjoyable evening of laughter, with the occasional poignant moment. To sum up: I liked it, it’s imperfect, needs change.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆