Sunday, September 21, 2008
This cheery cabaret production is a strawberry parfait, a delicious concocoction highly appealing to the eye with lots of sugar and self-confident sophistication. The North by Northwest Theatre Company has enlisted four attractive and highly talented actor/singers to create in Austin the first presentation of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, a piece that played for 12 years off Broadway. Its 5000+ performances put the run of this simple musical second only to the Fantastiks.
ILYYPNC is playing for only four weekends here in Austin, Friday through Saturday through October 12 at the Hideout Theatre at 617 South Congress.
For non-initiates such as us, from the street the Hideout looks like an ordinary coffee shop & bar, conveniently located for a subsequent crawl of the bars and pubs along 6th street. But they deal in entertainment as well as coffee, beer, wine and snacks. On Saturday ILYYPNC was playing in the downstairs 100-seat “black box” while upstairs at the same time, the announcement read, “a crew of Austin's finest improvisers take the stage in full Federation uniform and, based on audience suggestions, create a wholly original ‘episode’ set in the Star Trek Universe.”
The ladies in the ticket office took one look at us and commented, “Nah – they’re not here for the Trekkies.”
We hated being so obvious, but then, we had in fact made an on-line reservation for ILYYPNC.
Our four actor/singers are accompanied by a keyboardist and violinist for a zippy evening of black-out sketches and songs, themed loosely on the lines of courtship, marriage, parenting and the pleasant puzzles of romance at middle age and later. Onstage for almost two hours with a 15-minute break halfway, Michelle Cheney, Joe Penrod, David Sray and Wendy Zavaleta deliver along with their rapid fire of very funny skits not fewer than 21 musical numbers, ranging from solos to a finale (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”) that starts with an a capello worthy of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
The show has the bright, derisive flash of New York – it is fun poked by sophisticate singles and the New York artist community at the dilemmas of the love life of bourgeois middle America. Most of the skits are silly, mugging cartoon send-ups of all too familiar life dilemmas, and the audience responds with hilarity at the send-ups.
In the first half the show has a merry time making fun of the insecurities of dating, sexual posturing, the lack of eligible beddable bachelors, guy behavior as opposed to girl behavior, well-intended parental interventions in romance, and the panic of proposals and weddings. The downtown audience howled and sometimes shouted out recognition and encouragement – most of those attending were of college age or in late 20s and early 30s, and they were clearly getting happy shocks of recognition.
So imagine this scene: superb actors, clowning and singing their hearts out with midtown Manhattan sophistication, and a youngish audience that was drinking beer as if it were going out of style. Again and again, spectators descended the center stairs and crossed in front of half the stage on their way out and back to the bar and the bathroom. Early on, they usually waited for the blackouts, but as the evening wore on and the alcohol level rose, occasionally someone would cross in front of an actor/singer hard at work.
Too bad there wasn’t a rear stair for those folks. Or a trap door.
But with everyone so well launched, the second half was equally successful.
Leaving aside that growsing, what talented and attractive actors these are!
Chameleons all, they appeared in constantly changing relationships to one another.
Above, David plays the oblivious self-centered engineer blathering on as Wendy wonders whether all available single men are all such losers. Below left, Joe delivers a quiet, wondering paean to the wonder of staying in love with the same woman for more than thirty years. Below right, Michelle is captivated by a “chic flic” (while the guy at her side struggles unsuccessfully to remain manfully indifferent).
The music is mostly up tempo, the lyrics witty and the melodies engaging but ultimately forgettable. The magic is in the actors themselves. For example they take four swivel chairs and turn them into a family car, complete with obnoxious kids in the back seat:
That one is an anthem marking the lasting love affair between Joe, father of the family -- and his vehicle.
Examples of other transformations, quickly:
Michelle, singing of the miseries of serving always as a bridesmaid, never as a bride – and assembling a collection of never-reusable bridesmaid’s outfits.
David on the superhero fantasies of geeks and nerds.
The whole company, when Michelle and Joe as the parents learn at Thanksgiving that after two years of living together son David and fiancée Wendy have decided to break up:
After trouncing Joe yet again on a fourth date, Wendy maneuvers him out of his gentlemanly distance and persuades him to come over for lasagna (“and you’ll bring the wine and the condoms, right?”) She closes that scene with an inspired little jump of glee.
And my personal favorite is a solo turn by Wendy, with not a note of music. She plays a woman recently divorced, still hurt and angry, who is reluctantly recording a video for a dating service -- and impulsively lays it all out, not giving a damn about masquerading as younger, more accessible or invulnerable.
So open your browser or pick up your telephone, and make your reservations now. If we are lucky, North by Northwest might get this show extended or repeated. But for now, you have your choice of only three remaining weekends, Friday to Sunday, to schedule this delightful dessert.
Producer's comments on opening night, including a reviewer in the front row (not me!)
Lambert, Hendricks and Ross doing "Swingin' the Blues"