I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change continues at Above the Arts Theatre, London until 18 July.
Star rating: 5 stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
These days Joe DiPietro is best known for Broadway and West End musical Memphis, for which he wrote the book and, with composer David Bryan, co-wrote the lyrics. But the smaller scale of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, his 1996 collaboration with composer Jimmy Roberts, brings out the best in DiPetro’s comedic writing, and helped the show become the second longest-running Off-Broadway show in history, running for 5,003 performances.
In the show’s closest brush yet with the West End, four British performers take to the Arts Theatre’s cosy new upstairs space to present a series of songs and sketches on the ever-fruitful subject of love and dating. From the tentative first date to a couple of widowed pensioners finding love at a funeral, pretty much every stage of romance is covered.
Mostly everything is played for laughs, so it helps that the cast is comprised of musical theatre professionals for whom comedy appears to be effortless. Julie Atherton, surely the finest New York comic actor Lancashire has ever produced, has forged a career in such roles and is on her finest form here. Atherton is able to switch from the brittle, hurt and plaintive torch song to over-the-top slapstick comedy on a sixpence, and has plenty of opportunities in this show.
Not that the quartet of actors is unbalanced by one standout performer. This is a foursome in which every actor is on top form – none more so than Simon Lipkin. Reunited with his fellow Avenue Q original cast member Atherton, Lipkin possesses a similar ability to find a new comedic take on the most mundane line. Whether playing a serial killer-turned-motivational speaker who terrorises a young couple into dating each other, one half a couple that skips past the awkward moments of a relationship such that a lifetime together passes in minutes, or as a young dad who is looking forward to a rare night of passion with his wife without the kids interrupting, there’s a wicked twinkle ever present in Lipkin’s eye which suits this show to a T.
Fellow performers Gina Beck and Samuel Holmes are similarly on point, with Beck’s operatic experience shining through in her exemplary vocals and clearly revelling in the chance to show that she is a fine comedian to boot. Overall, all four performers shine under the direction of Kirk Jameson and with choreography by Sam Spencer-Lane that is suitable for both the material and the Above the Arts’s restricted space.
If the current spate of hot weather continues, the Above the Arts could threaten to be as uncomfortably hot as some of the Fringe’s least well-ventilated venues. But it’s certainly worth taking that chance, for an evening of laughter and love that should not be missed.
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Onstage Acts – Julie Atherton on the musical theatre course which backs new writing – Interview