The rib-tickling Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presentation of the long-running 1996 Off-Broadway hit I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is a fresh, new take on what my fellow South Carolinians used to call “heing and sheing.” The rocky road to romance has never before had so many hilarious bumps on it. Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and Jimmy Roberts (music) quickly locate the audience’s funny bone and pound on it often.
Hot Summer Nights guest director/choreographer Tito Hernandez’s snappy staging of a series of hilarious skirmishes in the ongoing War Between Men and Women is always buoyant and sometimes brilliant. He elicits effervescent performances from a pair of Triangle theater veterans — Yolanda Rabun and Andrea Schulz Twiss — and a pair of newcomers —recent East Carolina University graduate Aaron Pratt and Shenandoah Conservatory alumnus Jason Sharp. This imaginative and resourceful foursome is always on their toes and as nimble with a quip or a lyric as they are with a dance step.
The quartet first appears, hooded and monk-like (“Prologue”), tramping through the Garden of Eden and griping, as always, about the limited supply of Mr. Right and Ms. Right. Then the show fast-forwards to modern times and four frantic singles stressing out over their dates (“Cantata for a First Date”). The only thing that hasn’t changed since Adam and Eve is every princess still has to kiss a lot of frogs before finding her prince.
Yolanda Rabun and Aaron Pratt get the tsunami of laughter surging as two homely people who imagine themselves glamorous (“A Stud and a Babe”). Stuck in a restaurant with a couple of decidedly unstudly dates, Rabun and Andrea Twiss comically commiserate about the “Single Man Drought”; and Jason Sharp and Aaron Pratt strike right back with “Why? ‘Cause I’m a Guy.”
Twiss and Sharp’s date to see a chick flick (“Tear Jerk”) becomes a showstopper when HE gets all teary eyed, too. Rabun sings a sultry version of “I Will Be Loved Tonight” as she and Pratt salvage a tennis date in which she shows him no mercy on the court, but plans to make it up to him later between the sheets. Then, in the “Hey There, Single Guy/Gal,” Twiss and Pratt are hilarious as a long-time couple announcing their breakup to overeager mom and dad (Rabun and Sharp), who are expecting them to announce their engagement.
Our Fab Four comedians close out the first act on a high note with a knee-slapping skit about a law firm that encourages unsatisfied lovers to sue (“Satisfaction Guaranteed”) and an inspired bit of looniness in which Sharp plays a really scary serial killer giving relationship advice to terrified singles in a “Scared Straight to the Altar” program. In between, Rabun has a cute solo “He Called Me” about a woman waiting, waiting, waiting for a man to call her — as he promised — after a date.
In “Always a Bridesmaid,” Andrea Twiss bolsters her claim to the title of the Triangle’s top comic actress with caterwauling about how she accumulated a whole closet-full of tacky dresses that she couldn’t wear to a dog fight. Then in “The Baby Song,” Sharp and Rabun go goo-goo, gaga over their little one while Pratt gets more and more nauseated with all that bilious baby talk. Next, Twiss and Pratt delight as an overtired much-married couple whose carnal urges reawaken as they dance the “Marriage Tango.”
Then Rabun and Sharp as mom and dad and Pratt and Twiss as their bickering children embark on an ill-advised road trip (“On the Highway of Love”), scooting around the stage — in formation — sitting on four office chairs, with the audience screaming with laughter.
In “I Can Live with That,” Twiss and Sharp hit the comic bull’s-eye as a Golden Girl and a Golden Guy, who meet at a funeral and gradually and, in her case, reluctantly admit their mutual attraction. The show closes with a witty and worldly wise number — “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” — that should seem familiar to everyone who is or was or hopes to be in a relationship and still dreams of that magical moment Mr. Right will come riding up on a white charger or Ms. Right will come tripping down the castle stairs in a gossamer gown. That’s what makes I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change such a marvelous musical revue that it ran for 5,003 performances Off Broadway.
What makes the current Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy production a must-see musical is the crackerjack collaboration between director/choreographer Tito Hernandez, a cast of consummate comedians who know how to squeeze a laugh out of every line of dialogue and every lyric, the flamboyant fashions that costume designers Casey Watkins and Kristen Grieneisen devised to accent each of the character’s little quirks, and the perky accompaniment of the dynamic duo of musical director Jay Wright (keyboards) and Joan Beck (violin), who make beautiful music for this impertinent look at the vicissitudes of romance and marriage.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change will play Wednesday-Sunday though July 19th. Please see our theatre calendar for details.