Photograph by Jana Marcus
Wedding Party: Taking a turn as groom and bride, Max Bennett-Parker and Sara Stein panic on their wedding day as friends Nicholas Ceglio and Ariel Buck prod them toward matrimonial bliss.
Cabrillo Stage's musical comedy 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change' is an entertaining throwback
By Traci Hukill
JUDGING from the intermission patter on the opening night of the Cabrillo Stage musical I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, the parents nearly stole the show. Their scene comes halfway through the first act, after the audience is primed by a half-dozen vignettes for a certain type of romantic comedy--namely the type in which the guys are insensitive clods and the women are gorgeous and impatient. Attired in midcentury frump, Sara Stein and Nicholas Ceglio toddle out to a table ready to toast the marriage of their son (Max Bennett-Parker) to a career girl (Ariel Buck) whose professional aspirations perplex them, only to learn the marriage is off. They break into song. As their number progresses, the passive-aggressive barbs ("But we don't pity you/ No, not pretty you/'Cause your life belongs to no man, it's your own") shed their passivity and become openly hostile: "It's fine with us, my son/ Just drink, dance, have some fun/ We're your parents, we support you/ You little shit!" Stein and Ceglio are both gifted comic actors, and by the end of the number the audience is howling.
It's everything that's right and wrong about this endearing local production of the off-Broadway hit that ran 12 years. Joe DiPietro's book and lyrics reflect his upbringing--New Jersey during the Reagan years--and the overall result is dated and predictable, with an overreliance on schlub/nag setups underpinned by the assumption that feckless marriage and defeated parenthood are the fate of one and all. Some relief comes in the second act as the vignettes turn to darker topics, though only after a nearly unbearable episode about new parenthood.
All that said, this production of Love ... Perfect ... Change is thoroughly entertain-ing. Director Andrew Ceglio, who debuted last year with the similarly goofy and delightful Forever Plaid, has assembled a buoyant cast of four with enough talent and range to handle all 40 characters called for by the script. Little touches hint at Ceglio's playfulness, too, which has an inevitable effect on the cast. In one number a middle-aged couple mechanically eat breakfast; when in unison they lift their papers to turn the pages, one is reading Santa Cruz Weekly, the other Good Times (granted, maybe I find that funnier than most). Even the instrumentalists, dubbed the Love Band, are in on the fun; at the start of Act 2 they're performing the overture when violinist Priscilla Fisher launches an unplanned but impassioned solo while her band mates nervously clear their throats. The singing throughout is strong enough to allow the audience to relax and enjoy the ride. Bennett-Parker, who appeared in Plaid last year, is the stronger of the two male vocalists, with a fine tone and good enunciation, though Nicholas Ceglio (brother of director Andrew) is animated enough to more than compensate for any technical shortcomings. Ariel Buck (Audrey in 2007's Little Shop of Horrors) possesses a beautiful soprano with a crystal quality that at times I feared would be drowned out, though it never was. Sara Stein's confident mezzo-soprano was a joy.
Several individual performances stand out. Bennett-Parker's "Shouldn't I Be Less in Love With You" is surprisingly tender. Stein's comic timing, reminiscent of Tina Fey's, makes "Hey There, Single Gal/Guy" the ringing success it is. Buck's portrayal of an angry, distraught divorcee in "The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz" is notable for its compassion and honesty (and because it's the only vignette that doesn't try to be funny). And Nicholas Ceglio's old Jewish guy gently hitting on a widow in "I Can Live With That" suggests a reservoir of comic talent barely tapped by this production, quality though it is.
I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE runs through July 26 at the Erica Schilling Forum, Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos. Tickets are $20-$26. For schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.cabrillostage.com or call 831.479.6154.
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