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Love, Musical Style

TheatreVirginia scores with the manageable and fun musical "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.

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You'll just have to take my word for it: TheatreVirginia's final show of the season, "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," is like an extended episode of "Love, American Style." In scenes largely unconnected by plot, this crowd-pleasing, date-friendly musical rambunctiously bounces through the life cycle of romance, marriage and family. Some might also compare it to "Sex in the City," but there's too little post-feminist angst for the comparison to stand up.



Each scene includes a different set of characters performed by a superb four-person ensemble: Heather Ayers, Amy Griffin, Mark-David Kaplan and Alan Souza. Their roles require bang-bang timing, lots of physical comedy, numerous costume changes and a variety of singing styles. They make it look easy.



The title suggests an inexorable tendency towards dissatisfaction in relationships. But the play is really more about the necessity for clearheaded compromise. Perhaps it should have been called "I'm Not Sure I Love You, You're Not What I Had in Mind, But I'm Not Getting Any Younger, And You're Not Really That Bad."



Joe DiPietro's saucy lyrics often touch on romantic disillusionment and the inevitable impulse to try again. But almost every thought ends with a pleasing burst of optimism: "I've been through the wringer and been drip-dried. I keep comin' back all goo-goo eyed; I say I'm a mess, but I say it with pride!"



Jimmy Roberts' music includes a little of everything: jazz, tango, pop, show tunes and '50s rock 'n' roll. There's even a country song. At the beginning of the second act, wearing a not-so-pretty dress, Heather Ayers sings "Always a Bridesmaid" with a charming twang.



Pamela Hunt directs the show with the assuredness of a master illustrator using a wide brush and brightly colored paints. She applies brush stroke after brush stroke without any apparent anxiousness about dripping paint on the carpet. Mary Jo Dondlinger's big-time lighting design is critical to Hunt's swish-swish direction. Scenes and characters are introduced through broad, perfectly timed flows of light.



Austin K. Sanderson's set consists of a whimsical three-paneled Manhattan skyline flanked by television monitors. The monitors display sassy introductions to many of the scenes. At first, I worry someone forgot to password-protect Microsoft PowerPoint again. Theater people often like to play with PowerPoint and call it multimedia. But in this case, the introductions are well-placed. More importantly, the monitors add an extra degree of intimacy to an emotional scene late in the play.



As he did the scenery, Sanderson also designed the costumes with considerable playfulness. And for whatever reason, there haven't been this many brown men's suits in one place since Ronald Reagan emptied out his closets at the White House.



The program includes an apologetic note about TheatreVirginia's temporary inability to produce large-cast musicals because of financial constraints. The note unintentionally implies some defensiveness about the current show. There's nothing to worry about, though. This thoroughly entertaining, pocket-sized musical plays like a much bigger show. And best of all, the folks in charge were smart enough to leave Charles Nelson Reilly out of the cast. S



TheatreVirginia's "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" runs through June 8. Tickets cost $31-$40. Students $12. Call 353-6161.





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