Modern Love 

An amazing ensemble cast makes Circuit's I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change a must-see.

I want to give Circuit Playhouse's production of Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Robert's musical essay on the perils of romance I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change a fabulously glowing review. In fact, I want to give it the ravingest rave that ever raved. But I can't. Not entirely anyway. Don't get me wrong, I loved it. It's pretty darn close to being perfect. But in one very subtle, perhaps even nit-picky, way I wish that it could change: the script, that is, not the actual performances, which are all on the money.

Like so many contemporary scripts, I Love You tends to turn subtext into dialogue. In other words, the characters come right out and say the things which the audience should be allowed to discover. The best example of this is in the very first musical number, "Cantata for a First Date," when the characters all begin singing, "But I've got baggage, emotional baggage, a planeload of baggage that causes much saggage." To some extent, this substitution of subtext for dialogue satirizes the self-help Men are from Mars craze and, as they say in those silly, silly books, that's okay. But if this was truly the authors' intent, the insipid language which has grown up around that movement needed to be placed in somewhat larger quotation marks and examined a bit more carefully. As it stands, there are moments during the show when those of us who find such notions of "empowerment" to be the modern-day answer to snake oil will cringe with embarrassment. But those moments are fleeting and more than made up for in the script's brutal, hilarious, and occasionally even touching honesty about that crazy little thing called modern love.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change is subtitled "The Hilarious New Musical Revue." I don't know why that is, but it is. It's not a musical revue. It's sketch comedy with music. It's vaudeville. Oh sure, in their preface to the script the authors beg the performers to play the scenes for honesty, not laughs, noting that the comedy will be better that way, but this sentiment is true even in the broadest of farces. That they even feel the need to come out and say this is testament to the fact that live theater has lost its way. Fortunately, director Kevin Shaw and his more than capable cast know exactly where they are, what they are doing, and exactly how it should be done. On a stage designed to conjure up images of old-time vaudeville, complete with cutouts of red velvet curtains and illuminated placards announcing the names of the various sketches, Shaw and company have staged the most entertaining show to appear on the Circuit stage since the recently revived Pageant made its local debut.

Allow me to skirt all of the punch lines and give you the setup to a few of the scenes. "Satisfaction Guaranteed" is a commercial for a law firm that will sue your partner if they fail to satisfy you in bed. "A Stud and a Babe" shows us how even wallflowers can get lucky on occasion. "Tear Jerk" will appeal to every man who has ever agreed to take his date to a "chick flick." "Sex and the Married Couple" explores all the factors that work against a nesting couple's attempts to keep the flame alive, and "Funerals are for Dating" is about a widow and widower who look for love in unusual places. As you can see, the script's content ranges from broad (Brecht-lite) satire to utterly mundane scenarios of family life. At the risk of sounding trite, I Love You has a little something for everyone. The songs run the gamut of popular forms and each one in its own way somehow manages to become a show-stopper. This is largely due to the efforts of one of the most capable casts ever assembled. Whether working as an ensemble or flying solo, Kim Justis, Carla McDonald, Guy Olivieri, and Christopher Swan (making a glorious return to the Memphis stage) generate big laughs and make it all look so very effortless.

I've always admired Kevin Shaw's gifts as a choreographer, though I've never been all that impressed with his directing skills. I have to admit it: This time I'm impressed all the way around. Still, movement is obviously his forte. In the scene titled "The Family that Drives Together," Shaw has used rolling office chairs to create one of the most inspired bits of choreography I've ever seen.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

Through March 18th, Circuit Playhouse

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