Love is a delicious and vicious act. And it is devouring up its audience over in Little Italy. Hilarity never landed so well as it does with the inaugural production of a brand new company called Epic Productions Inc. Their debut show, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, is an uproarious hoot; a musical comedy that showcases the dysfunctions of love and marriage through a series of hilarious anecdotes and hysterical songs. Directed by company Co-Founder David Jennings, this series of rom-com vignettes with Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro and Music by Jimmy Roberts will touch your heart strings, tickle your funny bone, and open your eyes to the talent that a new company can bring to the Baltimore theatre scene.
Hosted graciously in the back of Ciao Bella, a major landmark restaurant of Charm City’s Little Italy, the new company is starting a “dinner theatre” trend with a meal offered through the restaurant before the show. The stage is intimate, no larger than a cabaret square or an open-mic section at a bar, but this quaint and cozy spacing is the perfect incubator for this particular musical. Performed with four actors, and very few costumes and prop, the audience is allowed to focus on the hilarity of the situations in which the characters find themselves as well as the through-line message of love thriving among dysfunction which is featured in the songs. The writing is comic, albeit in places corny, and makes for an easy night of good entertainment; perfect for the upcoming Hallmark-driven romance holiday.
Director David Jennings has a sharp eye for talent. Not only does he populate the production with four talented singers, but these performers understand the nuances of comedic acting and timing making this experience a delightful one. If this initial production is any indication, the company’s namesake is well chosen and fits the bill of entertainment to follow. The musical made its initial debut to the world in the mid 90’s but Jennings has made the appropriate adaptations to subtly infuse modern references into the show. While the dating video scene may appear outdated, his clear direction of the scene makes it feel poignant and modernly relevant despite its outmoded technology.
The scenes flow with a natural pacing; the music slides in and out of the performance, weaving its way into a story of sorts though the characters are ever-changing. Musical Director Charlotte Evans plays live keyboard with David Evans on the mandolin. These two live instruments are a charming and intimate touch to the performance that sets it above an ordinary production that would rely on pre-recorded music.
Evans’ displays a mastery of techniques with the performers as well as she blends harmonies, produces quality sound from the actors without artificial amplification, and creates a warm welcoming sound in all of the ensemble pieces. Evans has a way with music, as evidenced throughout the production but particularly with the difficult trio number “Waiting.” Giving all three of the featured performers in this number their chance to shine and then quickly blending them back into harmonic perfection is an indication of her musical prowess.
Though there is scant room for dancing, Choreographer and company Co-Founder Jamie Eacker makes her presence felt in little snippets featured throughout. There is a hint of a waltz or a nod to a tap routine featured in the performers’ bodies that represents the dance element of the performance. Eacker does imbue “Marriage Tango” with actual tango moves despite most of them being performed solo and these are delivered cleanly in the limited stage space.
A quarter of exceptionally talented performers comes together to provide an exceptional night of musical entertainment. While most of the sketches and numbers are for pure comic enjoyment, there is a number or two that has a heavy and wistful emotional gravity to it and when those numbers arise, these performers carry that shift gracefully. Powerful ensemble sound resonate through numbers like “Cantata for a First Date” and the quartet’s ability to clearly sing their own parts without jumbling into chaos during “On the Highway of Love” is astonishing.
Tara Taylor, who is featured as the “older woman” throughout has a sturdy handle on her comic character particularly when it comes to delivery. Her twangy, albeit truly heartfelt, rendition of “Always a Bridesmaid” features the show’s only true costume— a hideodeous bubble gum pink number with ruffles and bows in all the wrong places— is the perfect example of her performance versatility. Taylor, like all the performers in this production, take the comic numbers seriously, which makes them inherently more funny. Taylor, who most often plays opposite of Michael Kenny in scenes and songs, shares a precious and charming duet featured late in the show, “I Can Live with That.” This duet is endearing and again highlights Taylor’s diversity as a performer.
Kenny, as a powerhouse male in this performance, gives surprisingly animated facial features throughout the performance. Using his body and his face as much as he does his voice to articulate the emotional frustrations of love and all its trappings, Kenny becomes one of the scene-stealers frequently in this show. “Tear Jerk” as well as “Marriage Tango” are two featured numbers wherein Kenny brings down the house with thunderous applause and uproarious laughter. His sound is rich and robust, full and warm, especially for the really hokey comic duet shared with John Dellaporta, “Why? ‘Cause I’m a Guy.” Kenny also sings one two “dramatic” ballads in the piece. “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love with You” is a fully emotionally invested song where Kenny’s emotional commitment resonates through every word; his heart and soul channeling fully through his voice.
John Dellaporta, playing the other male in the production, truly understands the nuances of comic infusion when it comes to character work. He, like the other three performers, understands character acting in addition to singing with an impressively trained voice. His hilarious solo “The Baby Song” is vocally articulate even when he’s singing the gibberish nonsense words. His ability to give his scene partner a great deal to play with makes for exceptional connections and chemistry throughout the performance. His duet “A Stud and a Babe” is one of the best combinations of true vocal talent with honest character acting in the performance. The nerdy awkward character he creates radiates with geeky gusto without ever compromising his vocal quality. Most of Dellaporta’s scenes are played opposite Emily Levey and the pair complement each other divinely.
Levey, as the other woman in the show, has a stunning voice. Given the other emotionally serious number, “I Will Be Loved Tonight,” she rises to the challenge of imbuing this song with authentic dramatic feelings. It is sweet, shy, and tender; her voice carrying this delicate emotion of love to the highest notes of elation in a truly cautious but inviting fashion. For as brilliant as this number reads, her comic bits are equally on point. Jazzy and saucy for her duet “Single Man Drought,” which she shares with Taylor, Levey is a dynamic performer that pulls out all the stops to give this role her all.
There is little else to be said in regards to reasons to come and see this show. The cast is exceptional, the musical is a scream. It’s a smashing success of a show for the company’s first production. They are well on their way to success if the caliber of talent encapsulated in this performance is any indication. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of a ground-breaking new company in town, you’ll want to say you were there when they start making history.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change plays through February 15, 2015 at Epic Productions Inc. at Ciao Bella in Baltimore’s Little Italy— 261 South High Street in Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available at the door or in advance online.