Let’s not talk about anything else but love! It’s worth repeating, let’s not talk about anything else but love? Why? Life is fleeting, because pleasures come, pleasures go, love can come and go in one throw! Let’s not talk about anything else but love! Love that launched a thousand ships! Love that causes war and famine! Love is love is love is love is love. Love of the theatre— is certainly what The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre has going on with their unexpected production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! After assuming the culturally appropriate responsibility of canceling the previously slotted Dessa Rose after being unable to correctly cast the production, Spotlighters Theatre’s Managing Director Fuzz Roark picked up Joe DiPietro’s hilarious musical comedy and plopped it right into the season as if had belonged all along. What better show to explore finding the place where you belong than one that addresses all stages and phases of relationships from first dates through to funeral wakes? Directed by Fuzz Roark with Musical Direction by Mandee Ferrier Roberts, this humorous romp is an afternoon’s delight when it comes to love, love, love!
It’s an ordinary set-up; the stage-in-the-square at its functional best for a musical that doesn’t exactly follow a storyline. Set Designer and Scenic Artist Alan Zemla has painted the stages of romantic involvement into each of the corners; his artistry proudly displays the wine and hearts like a first date, the wedding bells of marriage, and the pink-n-blue teddy bear complete with stork for that phase where passion and intimacy become babies and families. There’s even some heart-shaped heads on the musical notes over in the pit corner to fully integrate the musicians into the notion of love and relationships. Director Fuzz Roark, teaming up with Lighting Designer Ty Miller, accents Zemla’s artwork and the action on the stage with simple uses of color and brightness. Nothing extraordinary or special, just enough to keep the atmosphere alive when the actors are singing their hearts out all throughout the show.
Costuming deserves a nod, both Costume Supervisor Julia Golbey and Stage Manager N. J. Saroff and their run-crew, for its variety and its expedient efficiency. Saroff and the run crew make quick changes happen flawlessly, or as flawlessly as they can when one actor has to jump out of one elaborate outfit and into another in the space of a breath. (Thank goodness for Musical Director Mandee Ferrier Roberts who vamps accordingly through the transitions when they take just a little bit longer than expected!) Golbey has arranged a unique smattering of costumes, in an array of colors, all of which fit the various characters that are approached and attacked throughout the production. There’s everything from hideodeous bridesmaid’s gowns to simplistic “first date” getups. And it all looks natural, as if these were characters from real life parading about on the stage.
Speaking once again of Mandee Ferrier Roberts and her one-man (or woman, depending upon which show you’re attending) pit-band, she keeps the music moving at pace, which ultimately drives the show forward. There is some truly gorgeous violin work coming out of (at this show) Kristopher Miller, especially during “Tear Jerk.” Ultimately enhancing the theatrical experience, Roberts’ live music— accompanied by Miller (and at alternating shows by Jane Pelton)— is a necessary component to fully experiencing and appreciating the love of this show.
Director Fuzz Roark knows the space well and blocks this series of romantic interludes accordingly. Ensuring that no matter where you sit, everyone watching will get a full view of this ensemble, Roark presents the show in all its glory to everyone with great viewing ease. His comical use of the monk robes in the opening and closing numbers, aligned with the textual support for humor, is a great way of expressing the show’s overall tone of levity right from the beginning. Bringing these six performers together to create over 60 characters is no easy task, but it is one at which Roark succeeds well, making for a heart-warming and highly amusing afternoon or evening of theatre.
Each of these performers has their moment to shine, as they all take on multiple different characters, and they all perform as part of one unified ensemble. Andrew Grossman, making his theatrical stage debut, gives the good old college try to each of the characters that he tackles, and some to great success. His nerdy approach to the character of Jason in “A Stud and a Babe” is quite humorous, although a bit pitchy when actually singing the lyrics. Grossman’s acting work is his strong suit, as presented in Scene 6— The Lasagna Incident— and later again in all of the outrageous facial expressions he pulls as Mitch during a song sung about at to him entitled “Hey There, Single Guy.”
Shaneia Stewart really displays her variated singing capabilities, putting the strength of her stylistic approach in the forefront of her performance. This is most readily witnessed during the duet “Single Man Drought.” The swanky, jazzy, bluesy number gives Stewart a chance to showcase the pizzazz that this particular character possesses, which makes for a nice change of pace compared to some of the other numbers featured throughout the performance. Stewart, like Grossman, puts on a facial show of epic proportions during “Hey There, Single Guy” in this song that’s song around and to and about her by other members of the cast. Providing solid backup harmonies in “A Picture of His”, Stewart once again puts her vocal diversity on display.
Charactered into a great many of the roles that she plays, Amy Bell is a treat in the mix, with her ever-changing wigs that give her collection of characters an extra intriguing edge. By far her best moment is “Marriage Tango” because she brings the ferocity and fire to the duet that she shares with Grossman (and subtly leads the tango steps despite being in the default follow position!) Providing full emotional relevance during “A Picture of His”, which is hilarious and tragic all in one go, Bell gives us character realness in these roles that could easily be snowballed into shticky caricatures by lesser seasoned actors.
Leading lady Linae’ Bullock puts it all out there in every sense of the word. Her character work is uproarious and truly side-splitting, especially when she starts playing the elderly characters. One of the most memorable is by far Mrs. Whitewood in the non-singing scene “Scared Straight.” The accent and physicality of this character (as well as her mother character in “On the Highway of Love”) is to die for. In addition to being physically engaging, Bullock possesses a voice of divinity that really pulls each singular emotion out of the number “I Will Be Loved Tonight” and weaves them together into a beautiful tapestry of love and uncertainty.
Carly M. Henderson brings her operatic soprano sound into the mix and finds creative ways to lend her classically trained voice to the modern musical styling of this show. Her Jersey accent and approach to Debbie during “He Called Me” is a proper scream, as is her Brooklyn Jewish old grandma routine used for Muriel in “I Can Live With That”, an adorable duet that features her lovely voice against that of Rob Wall. “Tear Jerk”, yet another duet with Rob Wall, is yet another example of her fine operatic instrument in play, really giving the melodramatic gravitas that the song calls for to everyone listening.
Rob Wall, who carries a great deal of impressive weights— both vocally and in his acted characters— in this show, is the one to watch. (Really, they’re all the ones to watch, but watch him especially!) Between his ridiculously uncouth “make this date great again” side-character of Bob#1 (who even gets his own ‘big-jerk’ solo in a duet with Grossman called “Why? ‘Cause I’m a Guy”) and his absolutely hysterical portrayal of Arthur in “I Can Live With That”, there doesn’t appear to be a character that Wall can’t tackle. His singing floats sublimely in and out of all of his songs and his emotional depth is astonishing when he sings “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love With You?”, a solo directed at the silent Amy Bell.
There’s a little something for everyone. There’s feeling, there’s funny, there’s fantasy, and above all there’s love. You don’t have to think too hard to enjoy and appreciate all the talent and hard work happening on this stage; just sit back, watch, listen, and absorb it all. Take it all in, because I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change really does have it all. It has love.
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! plays through April 22, 2018 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre— 817 St. Paul Street in the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore City in Maryland. For tickets call the box office at (410) 752-1225 or purchase them online.