Musicals are a genre I love to hate, or sometimes hate to love. I have to be in the mood for one. In general that which niggles me about them is the same as what I whole-heartedly like about them: the cheese. The swooning, sing-along, melodrama. A group of real people on stage pulling everything they’ve got out of a bag to bedazzle us. The story rarely stands alone, adorned with set, falsettos and sequins. But beneath it all there is so much skill, with the performers expanding and condensing their threefold talents before our very eyes. That’s what makes the cheese and the dancing in the aisles worthwhile – awe-inducing talent. The same reason that Lionel Richie won Glastonbury. Also the reason why, when all the crowd-pleasing razzmatazz is peeled away, the story stands stronger than ever. Never more so than with the recognisably titled, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change – the most real musical I’ve stumbled across it since I annually stumbled across it at the Edinburgh Fringe.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change has been knocking around fringe venues for years, since it opened off Broadway twenty years ago. In many ways, it belongs on the fringe because it is a slice of all of our lives – a presentation of our own love lives doing and undoing in our own front rooms. A myriad of characters (played by four actors), through witty sketches and even wittier songs, take us through the all-too-familiar trajectory of loving, failing and having another bash: a bash with baggage. They take us from single searching and early dating to marriage and love disillusioned by the formation of family. They are subjects that are so personal, so insular and so specific that they would be drowned on a big stage under blinding lights.
So I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change finds itself in the heart of the West End… in an attic. Its stage is a small rectangle at the bitter end of the room, before folding chairs set out as though for a school assembly. The set: more folding chairs and a threadbare sofa in front of a black cyc. The cast: pretty stellar, bringing in the big guns with Julie Atherton and Simon Lipkin topping the bill and Gina Beck and Samuel Holmes matching them in every way possible. It’s certainly not the kind of cast you’d expect to find in a sweltering attic with no window, but one whom I felt privileged to be in touching distance of – to hear them sing full throttle, blowing up my goosepimples as they exhale. The bland space is transformed entirely by their performance, as is the narrative.
See, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is realism: it’s sharp, it’s sexy and yet it sure is simple. That simplicity is the charm because it enables the plot to be attributed to pretty much every member of the audience. But that simplicity also needs setting on fire by a cast as fantastic in this one.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is playing at the Arts Theatre until 18 July. For more information and tickets, see the Arts Theatre website. Photo by Piers Foley Photography.