“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is a light-toned series of skits and songs about dating, relationships and marriage that generates its fair share of chuckles, but frequently resembles the sitcom world more than the real world. A new version of it is currently playing at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick.
Book and lyric writer Joe DiPietro and composer Jimmy Roberts created the original version in the mid-’90s, and it ran for more than 5,000 shows off-Broadway. Among off-Broadway musicals, only “The Fantasticks” has run longer. George Street Playhouse artistic director David Saint, though, asked for an update, since so much has changed, culturally, over the last two decades, and he got it.
So this new version has skits about — or, at least, references to — Netflix and Tinder and cellphones and YouTube and President Trump and gay marriage. Yet it still projects a sense of old-fashioned corniness. DiPietro seems intent on recycling every hoary cliché about men, women and dating. His male characters like to watch sports and hate to ask for directions; women, if single, are in danger of binging on Häagen-Dazs and turning into pathetic cat ladies. Men are oblivious to their romantic partners; women are insecure, and love shopping. Men like action movies; women like Kate Hudson movies. And so on.
DiPietro’s lyrics and dialogue are unrelentingly cute. These characters don’t just have “baggage,” they’ve got “emotional draggage.” Women commiserate over the “single man drought.” New parents can’t stop themselves from speaking in baby talk, even to other adults.
The first act is mostly about dating; the second, about marriage. It’s a fast-paced show, and throughout the evening, the four actors (Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Karen Burthwright, Mitchell Jarvis and George Merrick) sing well and move from one character to the next, and one scenario to another, with unflagging energy.
I thought there was a lot more substance, and more reality, to the second act, than the first.
This act started with “Always a Bridesmaid,” a country music-style lament — featuring some of DiPietro’s cleverest rhymes — that was sung by Chambers, playing a perennial bridesmaid who recalls the disastrous weddings she’s been to, and the disastrous dresses she’s worn to them:
For Tabitha, I wore taffetta
You should never, people laugh at ya
But I had a hunch her marriage was doomed.
The groom tried to stroke me
While we danced the Hokey Pokey
They divorced before the honeymoon.
Also particularly good was a long, touching skit called “Funerals Are for Dating,” in which Chambers and Merrick played an elderly widow and an elderly widower, awkwardly making a connection with each other. But it was a rare instance of DiPietro building something real, instead of always going for the quick and easy joke.
A word about the theater itself: A new arts center is currently being built on the portion of Livingston Avenue that formerly housed The George Street Playhouse. George Street will move back there when the project is completed, in fall 2019, but in the meantime, it will present its shows — starting with this one — at the former site of the New Jersey Museum of Agriculture, on College Farm Road.
I’m sure it was no easy task to transform the space, but the theater is roomy and comfortable, albeit nondescript, and parking (on-site, and free) is a breeze. For a theater-goer’s point of view, at least, it’s not going to be a hardship at all to put up with the temporary site until the new theater is ready.
Next up there, Nov. 28-Dec. 23, is “An Act of God,” starring Kathleen Turner; it’s a show that will likely have some of the edge that “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” lacks.
“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is at the George Street Playhouse through Nov. 12; georgestreetplayhouse.org.