Stephanie Likes (left) and Kristen Drathman are perfect; don't change.
Stephanie Likes (left) and Kristen Drathman are perfect; don't change.

Sweet Nothings

The new musical revue at Phoenix Theatre epitomizes everything I loathe about the genre: It's formulaic and predictable, full of half-written songs whose tunes I'd forgotten by the time I hit the parking lot. Why, then, did I so enjoy I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change?

Almost certainly because this super-slick production is performed by a talented and appealing cast of actor-singers who play dozens of characters caught up in the rigors of romance. If one must revisit this romance-as-revue subgenre, it should be in the company of these four performers, who make a lot of old saws seem new again.

A surprise hit from New York's 1996-97 theater season, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change this year became the longest-running musical revue in off-Broadway history, surpassing the previous record-holder, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Billed as "Seinfeld set to music," I Love You is a brainless trifle aimed at audiences who don't consider that tag line a warning to stay away.


I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

Phoenix Theatre, 100 North Central

Continues through Sunday, June 3. Call 602-258-1974.

Everything here has been done before -- most execrably in Personals, another popular revue about romance and dating. Once more, we watch people meet cute in "Cantata for a First Date" ("First date, new romance/Clean shirt, pressed pants/Brush the teeth, mousse the hair/Calvin Klein underwear . . ."), stumble through romance, get married, and get boring.

Matrimony, according to authors Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts, makes dull marrieds out of formerly fascinating folks. Once the quirky singles are married off at Act One's curtain, their stories become as dull as dirt. The second act starts out promisingly, with the witty but none-too-original "Always a Bridesmaid," a twangy paean to spinsterhood and ugly attendant dresses ("For Tabitha/I wore taffeta/You shouldn't/People laugh at ya"). Halfway through, lifeless lyrics sink a song about a guy who loves his car more than his marriage ("At home we don't fight/At home we don't yell/But once we start the car/The marriage goes to hell").

Most of the writing is as feeble, with a few exceptions. There's "Not Tonight, I'm Busy, Busy, Busy," a smart sketch about a couple on a blind date who spend the evening imagining how dreadful their romance will probably be. And I laughed out loud at "Hey There, Single Gal/Guy," in which the parents of half of an unmarried couple take them to task for breaking up.

The less attractive material is enlivened by a cast who could, as they say, sell ice water to Eskimos. Ben Britain is charming as a goofy nerd out on a first date, and holds his own among stronger singing voices. Stephanie Likes' lovely vocalizing and sharp comic timing banished my memory of her portrayal of Eve in Children of Eden. And Rusty Ferracane provides his usual dependable performance, wrapping his big, warm voice around DiPietro's unexceptional lyrics, and overcoming frequent comic gaffes with radiant good humor.

Kristen Drathman's talents have never been better displayed. Her work here proves that she's a charismatic singer and comedienne and suggests that she's been ill-used by smaller companies in earlier roles. In a sketch titled "Funerals Are for Dating," Drathman accomplished something I never thought I'd see: a young actor portraying a convincingly elderly old person.

Randy Wojcik's direction sustains a speedy gait, and his choreography substitutes imagination for acrobatics on Richard Farlow's tidy turntable of a set. Wojcik would have done better to nix the relentless product placement, however; the advertisements for local shops and restaurants that are dumped into every other sketch or song are just plain embarrassing. Otherwise, his savvy casting and light touch make a lot of warmed-over jokes and some forgettable tunes into a pleasant entertainment.


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