Shortly after the Hollywood Fringe Festival, I read a review in the LA Post-Examiner about a production of I Love You, Because at the Hudson Theatre. I had heard the music from the show before (I have the CD), and wanted to see it; unfortunately, I just couldn’t fit it into my schedule before it closed. Luckily for me, I learned about a different production being produced by someone I knew from my Temple Beth Torah days that was opening in September. The show’s schedule and my schedule were able to mesh, and so last night we were out in Burbank to see the Red Brick Road Theatre Company† (FB) and Endeavor Theatre Ensemble’s production of the Cunningham and Saltzman musical “I Love You, Because” at the Grove Theatre Center.
[† Red Brick Road does have a website, however it is currently under construction and not yet uploaded. Eventually, you’ll find it here.]
I Love You, Because is a musical about… well, let me start by telling you what everyone says it is about. Everyone says — that is, it seems to be that every review of the show that you will read will say — it is a modern twist of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Now, I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, but I have read the Wikipedia summary, and I have difficulty seeing the purported connection. My advice: ignore that claimed aspect of the show, as it appears to be tenuous at best. Beside that, there are no zombies.
So what is I Love You, Because about. To me, it is a comedy squarely in the center of the off-Broadway subgenre of small cast comedies about finding love in New York. You know them: shows like First Date; Brownstone, The Musical; Five Course Love; I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; I, Sing; Little Shop of Horrors… oh, right, no zombies. In any case, shows about some small number of couples seeing to find love through endless dating, finding Mr. Wrong, and then finding Mr. Right. I don’t know why they are always in New York — perhaps Gothamites are much worse at finding love, or perhaps Gothamites will only go see a show if it is about their city (whereas LA folks care about love in New York, perhaps New York doesn’t care about LA).
In any case, I Love You, Because is squarely in the “looking for love” genre of musicals. In this case, we have two young and beautiful gothamites: Austin and Marcy. Each has just been dumped by their long-term paramores. One, Marcy, would just like to move on, but her best friend Diana convinces her that she absolutely must wait the proper amount of rebound time. The other, Austin, wants to win back the love of his life, but his brother, Jeff, convinces him that he must go out and date again, for only then will the universe restore balance by bringing the woman that dumped him back. If you hadn’t realized it yet, both of the sidekicks are pretty cynical about love itself and neither has any realistic hope or want of finding a relationship. So the two sidekicks happen to set up a date with each other, and happen to bring along their best friends so they can meet and force the universe to do what they want.
The universe is perverse, so you can guess what happens.
That’s right, Austin and Marcy start seeing each other: her to have something to pass the rebound time with; him to have someone help him right the perfect poem to win his girl back. There’s no interest of the two in each other, as they are stereotypical opposes: he a straight-laced Republican; she a free-spirited Liberal. As I said, you can guess what happens; I probably shouldn’t spoil it too much.
As for the sidekicks, you can probably guess what happens there. After all, you’ve see Mike and Molly. That’s right: they become friends with benefits.
By now you can see where this is going, and anticipate where things will end up. There is a crisis at the end of Act I prompted by the profession of actual feelings; Act II serves to resolve those feelings and bring everything to a happen ending, with the help and lubrication of two nameless supporting cast members who serve various roles, including as bartenders and waitresses (something every actor in New York knows how to play well).
Overall, I found the story a bit sitcomish, but enjoyable and funny and cute. That may be because the characters were written a bit broadly. Others in the audience were guffawing and finding it hilarious throughout — I’m not that demonstrative, but there are some very cute bits. There could be an age factor in this: the humor may hit even more to those who are closer to the modern dating world than I, an engineering type who married another engineering type and never really explored the dating scene (except with other mathematicians, scientists, and engineers).
Part of this could be due to the fact that this was an early work from the authors, Ryan Cunningham (Book and Lyrics) and Joshua Saltzman (Music). The team does not have a lot of musicals under their belt, and often the oeuvre of a team matures over their production span. In many ways, the lyrics and music were a bit stronger than the book itself. Many of the songs were very cute and the audience could relate to them. Good examples of this are “We’re Just Friends”, “Coffee”, and “That’s What’s Gonna Happen”. Of course, there is the very strong “The Actuary Song”, which makes one think of the heist planning in 70 Girls 70. On the other hand, there were some klunky-ish songs such as “…But I Don’t Want to Talk About Her”.
One thing that was notable here was the casting, for which there is no specific credit (so it was likely a combination of the director and the producers). Most productions of this show, judging by the cast pictures, tend to select a uniformly white, good looking, model-proportioned cast. This production was far from that. Of the three female cast members, two were on the fubsy side, the third was a person of color. The male side was a little less diverse, although that is understandable given two of the three characters are brothers. But it was truly a nice thing to see on the stage — especially as -ism based on size has been about the only -ism to remain common.
Let’s turn to this cast, under the direction of Carol Becker (FB). In the lead positions were Laura Bevilacqua/FB as Marcy and Nick Echols (FB) as Austin. Let’s start with the basics: I was smitten with Bevilacqua’s performance. She had a remarkable personality, a dazzling smile, wonderful expressions and reactions and an extremely strong singing voice that did not require the amplification that it had. She was just a joy to watch, especially when she wasn’t the center of the action and was just reacting. Echols seems to start out a bit stiffer (this was, after all, the second performance of the show) and to have some amplification problems, but as the show progressed he became a much warmer character and less of the stereotype he began as. (boy, that was a convoluted sentence). One other thing worth noting was the size difference between the two: even in her heels, Bevilacqua was at least a head shorter than Echols. It was fun to watch them navagate around that.
In the sidekick tier, we had Kristen Bennett/FB as Diana and Matthew Ian Welch (FB) as Jeff. Bennett and Welch just seemed wrong for each other, yet the pairing work. No where else was this clearer than in the “We’re Just Friends” song, where the two are clearly having a load of fun. Bennett had a very strong gospel style voice, and Welch had an amazing baratone that just seemed to come from nowhere.
Rounding out the team in various character roles were Ali Deyer (FB) as the “NYC Women” and Tim Jim Lim/FB as the “NYC Men”. I really liked Deyer — it was nice to see someone who was zaftig on stage where it wasn’t being played for the funny, but just as a normal character with a normal life. Deyer also had a strong singing voice. I was less crazy about Lim — his characterizations were a bit over the top and at times bordered on the stereotypical; I was also not enamored of his singing voice, which was a bit weaker than the other two men in the cast. Lainie Pahos (FB) was the understudy for Marcy/Diana.
The on-stage musicians were under the musical direction of Stephanie Deprez (FB), who was on stage playing as much as the actors (she was a hoot to watch). The “orchestra” consisted of Betsi Freeman (FB) (Piano), Glenn Ochenkoski (Drums), Mark Corradetti (FB) (Bass), and Jeff Kroeger (Keyboard). Choreography was by Liza Barskaya (FB) and worked pretty well given the space — again, I particularly enjoyed it on the “We’re Just Friends” number.
Turning to the production and creatives side. The set design by Carmi Gallo was reasonable: it didn’t give a strong sense of New York other than the pictures hanging on the wall; additionally, there was this odd red LED shape at the back that would turn on occasionally. It was unclear what that was meant to convey; hence, it served primarily to distract. Properties design was by Rebecca Kahn/FB, and they worked reasonable well — especially all of the fruity drinks and such. The sound design from Jay Lee was problematic: there was bad balance between the actors and the music; in that size space, the music needs to be toned down and the actors — especially these actors — do not require much amplification. As it was, it was a bit overpowering. The lighting design by Robert Davis conveyed the proper sense of mood and time, and thus worked well. The costume designs by Christine Macedo were strong — I particularly enjoyed the costumes on the lead actress (remember, I said I was smitten); all conveyed that sense of New York design that doesn’t work as well in LA :-). Rounding out the production credits were: Becky Murdoch/FB, Assistant Director; Owen Panno (FB), Stage Manager (who didn’t recognize us from the many years ago where we frequented TDWA in Northridge with all the Nobel grads); and Emily Mae Heller (FB) and Betsi Freeman (FB), Producers.
I Love You, Because continues at the Grove Theatre Center (FB) through October 2nd. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets; they do not appear to be up on Goldstar. I found it a fun and cute show — not deep, but fun — and a nice way to pass the evening.
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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). We’re thinking of adding yet one more subscription: the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district. Their 2017 season looks great: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Past subscriptions have included The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
Upcoming Shows: The last weekend in September brings The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October is a bit more booked. The first weekend brings Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) event: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood).
Interrupting this recap for a word from a sponsor: Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom is open to the community, and is a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood. Please tell your friends about it. I’m Past President of MoTAS, and I really want this to be a success. Click on the flyer to the right for more information. It should be a really funny night.
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), although I doubt if we’ll have time for any shows. November will bring Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. We still have some open weekends in there I may book. We close out the year, in December, with the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. See here for the Indiegogo. Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.