Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review of a Revue: “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” at Wheaton Drama

My friends know my rule about standing ovations, which is that I don’t have a conscious rule and rarely stand. When it happens, it just happens and I’m kind of surprised that it does. “Hmm… I’m on my feet and applauding. Okay.” This was never more unexpected than when it happened last night for Wheaton Drama’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, because I spent the first ten minutes or so in a panic, thinking, “I said I’d write a review. And I don’t like it. I don’t hate it, but I don’t like it.”

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts is a revue about relationships and life. The words are usually pretty clever and the music is terrific. But the first few scenes are easy, obvious, stereotyped jokes. Men fart proudly and women rightly disdain them. Okay, never heard this before. Whatever.

The cast members were uniformly excellent. The material wasn’t living up to the talent performing it. Then the material did start living up to the cast, starting slowly with Tear Jerk about a macho guy dragged to a chick flick. What was going to happen was obvious, but the writing was starting to warm up. Next came The Lasagna Incident and the show started sailing and didn’t look back.

Highlights include And Now the Parents, about a young couple telling the guy’s parents that they are breaking up; Scared Straight about a singles club meeting in prison; and Satisfaction Guaranteed, which debuted such phrases as “G-spot” and “going down” to the Wheaton Drama stage. I checked the ceiling beams at intermission. Everything seemed pretty stable and the building didn’t collapse into itself & sink into the earth because somebody said “fuck” and “dickheads”. Nobody in the audience fainted, stormed out or farted in terror. It was almost as if it was no big deal. Huzzah!!!

Since the cast is an ensemble, let’s talk about them collectively at first: they work as a team – everybody has their moments, they all help each other out and nobody tries to upstage anybody. The voices are strong and beautifully blended. Sandy Jozef’s work as musical director is gorgeous. Tracy Adams’ choreography was wonderfully appropriate and branched out into Fucking Amazing with On the Highway of Love. The musicians (David Belew, Charmaine Jones & Kimberlee Gillen) were top notch – not a clunker note was heard, which is rare in community theater. They also had a couple of gags.

The cast as individuals:

Heather Miller is a god; but that’s just me. From her stick-up-the-ass Scared Straight moderator to her raucous Always a Bridesmaid to her sweet old lady in Funerals are for Dating, every character was clearly drawn and completely different. Sunny, exuberant and comedically on the money.

Lisa Schmela was alternately very funny and very touching. Beautiful voice and knew how to mug delicately. Highlights: the aforementioned Lasagna Incident as an awkward Mary Richards/Annie Hall tennis player, A Stud and A Babe’s nerdette and a nervous 40 year old divorcee in The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz.

(photo by Ken Beach)

Harrison Ashley vied with Schmela for the mugging award (I’m referring to appropriate mugging, not scene stealing. That’s Fly Catching, not Mugging.) Great voice. He attacked everything with energy, such as the enraged prisoner in Scared Straight, the former guy’s guy now addicted to baby talk in Whatever Happened to Baby’s Parents? and especially the old man in Funerals are for Dating.

Keith deBolt shined at all times. Fine voice, talented comedically and warmly human at unexpected moments. Highlights: Alfalfa grown up in A Stud and a Babe, the willing but interrupted husband in Sex and the Married Couple and especially Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love with You which, for personal reasons and combined with I Can Live With That, completely wrecked me to the point where I left by the back door after the show instead of sticking around and saying hi to everybody. I was bitching about the facile content of the first part of act one, wanting more substance. Be careful what you wish for.

Jack Smith’s direction was flawless. When you hear “revue”, you think (well, I do) that we’re talking about four people sitting on stools and holding microphones. Maybe with a dance number every five minutes. This is a show with multiple set and costume changes and it flowed like a knife through warm butter. Smith got depth, passion and laughs from his cast, terrific music from the band, great dances that didn't yell “Look at me!!!”, unbelievably strong harmonies from the musical director and ass-hauling precision from the stage crew. Terrific work from everybody involved.

The problem with the first part of the show? I think it’s me being cranky and old. The parts of the show that spoke to me weren’t about dating and what morons guys are. I’m not there anymore; but what there is of that is done brilliantly. The rest of the show is one of the best revues I’ve ever seen, in a first class production. Go see it. It’s worth the money.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change continues at Wheaton Drama, 111 N. Hale Street, Wheaton through October 11. Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., p.m., Sundays at 3:00 p.m. For reservations and information, call (630) 260-1820 or order online at