Review: ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change’ at Hillbarn Theatre (****)

 

Ketih Pinto and Hayley Lovegren (center) toast the unhappy Samtha Rose Cárdenas and Jack O’Reilly.

by Otto Coelho

I have to make a confession.. When I started writing theatre reviews, one of the promises I made to myself was that I would not give standing ovations. I thought it seemed excessive. I was to offer an unbiased opinion of what had occurred onstage, and felt that to stand would put me a bit too much into the company’s corner.

But for “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” I broke that promise without a second thought. To hell with it. It was a stupid promise to make in the first place. In the theatre, one rewards excellence with ovations—and this cast deserved to see the audience rise.

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is comprised of a series of musical vignettes. There is no storyline that stretches throughout. There are no characters that develop an arc over the two hours traffic on the stage. The show tells a variety of stories about how couples of all kinds meet, develop relationships, fall in love, and get and stay married. It runs the gamut of the whos, hows, whats, whens, and whys with hilarious and sometimes touching results.

Each of the performers takes on a variety of roles—like they’re in a very good version of “Saturday Night Live” with singing —and all four of them are exceptional, individually and as an ensemble. Samantha Rose Cárdenas is terrific as “Woman #1,” whether she’s playing a severely nerdy young girl who dreams of being a babe, a career-focused twenty-something who decides it’s best not to marry, or a harried mom on a road trip—to name just a few of the characters she plays. Her characterizations are distinct and her voice is great. As “Woman #2,” Haley Lovegren shines. Ms. Lovegren has a fantastic voice that can go from theatrical to lyrically operatic to country—and makes it look easy (and I know it isn’t). Her characters range from a youngster in the back seat during a road trip to an attorney who negotiates the terms of a sex romp to an elderly widow attending a wake—and more—and there is just something riveting about her. I dare you to take your eyes off of her when she’s onstage. You can’t.

Jack O’Reilly is great as “Man #1—not only does he have a great voice and holds his own with the rest of the cast in playing a variety of characters, but he has one of the most touching turns of the evening with the wonderful “Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You?” As his wife Ms. Lovegren almost destroyed me with a simple absentminded touch of her hand on his. So much love and connection with just a touch. I got chills. Keith Pinto is solid as Man #2—his voice is terrific and strong, as are his characterizations. From a macho, action movie loving guy on a date at a chick flick to a harried dad driven insane by his wife on a road trip and many other characters, Pinto earns many well-deserved laughs. The entire cast does.

Director Erica Abrahamson, a veteran of the beloved Beach Blanket Babylon, has guided her cast with a steady hand. Don’t come looking for heavy dance numbers. Nobody’s wearing tap shoes or giant headdresses. They don’t need them. Abrahamson gets more out of four talented performers sitting on four wheeled dinette chairs in the fabulous “On The Highway of Love” than most choreographers can get with a kick line—and it’s a hell of a lot funnier. As the “orchestra,” pianist Jon Mattei and violinist Paula Filseth both accompany the performers and provide incidental music beautifully. Matt Owens’ set is simple, yet flexible. Lighting and sound design by Ron Ho is great, and Ashley Garlick’s costumes are simple and effective—and in one scene in particular, hilarious.

So if you want a couple of hours of good, solid laughs, great songs, and really good performances get to the Hilbarn and see “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” You’ll be glad you did. And if you feel like standing up at the end, go right ahead.

In closing, a word about the Hillbarn and COVID precuations.  These folks appreciate that we’re gathering together again and want it to continue. Mask wearing in the building is mandatory at all times. If you want a snack or something to drink, you’re invited to the patio area outside. As mask mandates are beginning to lift around the country (a bit soon, in my opinion), this is commendable. Bravo.

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” continues through May 8th at the Hillburn Theatre in Foster City. For more information click here.

Rating: **** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

_________________________________

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro. Music by Jimmy Roberts. Orchestrations by Doug Katsaros. Produced by Hillbarn Theatre. Director: Erica Abrahamson. Music Director: Matthew Mattei. Lighting and Sound Design: Ron Ho. Set Design: Matt Owens. Costume Design: Ashley Garlick. Props Design: Xandra Nemchik.

Cast:

Woman #1: Samantha Rose Cardenas*. Woman #2: Hayley Lovegren. Man #1: Jack O’Reilly. Man #2: Keith Pinto*. Undersudy: Catherine Reiflin. Vioinist: Paula Filseth. Pianist: Jon Mattei.

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