A lot has changed in the past 22 years, and much has remained the same.
Take, for instance, a modest musical revue about relationships, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which opened off-Broadway in 1996 and ran 5,003 performances. Along the way, the show became an international hit too, translated into at least 17 languages and entertaining audiences in dozens of countries to this day. But now it, too, has gone through some changes.
Its playwright and lyricist, Joe DiPietro, felt the need to revise the material, taking into account advances in technology, the rise of social media, the advent of same-sex marriage and, yes, the arrival of a certain orange-faced president.
MNM Theatre Company is the first area troupe to produce the new version of the show, which involves a lot of text edits and the subbing in of two new songs. The revisions give I Love You … Perfect … Change a welcome freshness, even though the overall show remains terribly uneven, ranging from overly broad comedy sketches to affecting dramatic vignettes, simplistic ditties to emotionally complex musical numbers.
Frankly, I have never understood the long-running appeal of this show, which aims for universal identification, but achieves it by trafficking in clichés. OK, so men like to watch football, women like to shop, bridesmaid dresses are usually hideous and parents fixate on their newborns. All true, but hardly surprising stuff and insufficient to hook an entire scene or song on.
When the revue first arrived in South Florida almost 20 years ago, the material was elevated by its appealing, hard-working cast. So it is again at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, where Clay Cartland, Heather Kopp, Michael Scott Ross and, especially, Anna Lise Jensen sprint through dozens of characters ranging from youthful blind daters to geriatric funeral-goers on the prowl for a little sunset romance. If they do not quite convince us that the show is profound, they do often mask how creaky its observations are.
DiPietro was previously best known for the intergenerational comedy Over the River and Through the Woods, and his scene writing here is stronger than his lyrics, which would not make Stephen Sondheim jealous. Still, married to Jimmy Roberts’ bouncy melodies, they make for a pleasant enough musical throughline.
The best of them is certainly the touching “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love with You?,” a rumination of enduring feelings over time, ably and simply delivered by Cartland. Jensen is a standout on a power ballad of burgeoning romance, “I Will Be Loved Tonight,” and Kopp gives a tune about hapless singlehood, “Always a Bridesmaid,” a chipper country-western twang. Most of the material is comfortably PG-13, except for one of the new numbers about a guy with a very blunt come-on – texting photos of his male member.
Ross carries a couple of the weaker songs, but comes on strong in the penultimate scene as the dry-eyed mourner looking to get lucky at a mortuary. And Jensen will break your heart as a woman in search of a compatible partner as she records her first ever dating video.
With The Wick Theatre dark this summer, its frequent stager Dom Ruggiero stays busy handling the directing chores at MNM. He showcases his cast well and moves the two-hour revue along briskly, which is its key requirement. The ubiquitous Caryl Fantel makes her MNM debut too, handling the musical direction chores of the live four-piece band with herself on keyboards.
Linda C. Shorrock costumes the company with clever contemporary touches, but her husband, Thomas M. Shorrock, settles for generic abstract lighting splayed across Cindi Taylor’s backdrop of boxy panels.
Come to think of it, “generic” is a good description of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, and maybe that is the secret of its success. At MNM, the performers are the reason to attend and for most theatergoers that will probably be enough. The show has been yanked into the 21st century, with new tech touches that amuse, but it never was, and never will, be confused with perfection.
I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE, MNM Theatre Co. at the Rinker Playhouse, Kravis Center, 710 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday, Aug. 12. $55. 561-832-7469 or www.kravis.org.