Category: Archive

On the Aisle: Love in the Apple

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

“I Love You Because” may be the first musical comedy to have as one of its major characters an actuary, and a female actuary to boot.
That’s the case, however, with the perky, modestly-scaled show at the Village Theatre, once the home of the fabled Village Gate, one of the primary sites of the 1960s folk revival.
The new venture, with book and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham and music by Joshua Salzman, requires just a half-dozen singing performers, four of them playing a pair of troubled couples, with the remaining two doing yeoman service as just about everybody the frazzled foursome encounters on the rocky road to love in Manhattan.
That’s the key word, Manhattan, as might be suggested, to some extent, by the eager little puppy of a musical’s subtitle, which identifies the production as “a modern day musical love story.”
In all probability, the show, directed at a healthy trot by Daniel Kutner, will strike a responsive chord with the target audience for whom “I Love You Because” has clearly been constructed, namely members of the city’s singles dating scene. Particularly the downtown part of it, with plenty of participation from Brooklyn and Queens.
Austin Bennet, played by the appealing Colin Hanlon, is a slightly restrained, inherently conservative writer of greeting card verse.
He is, in fact, sufficiently conservative to be identified, more than once in the course of the musical, as a member of the Republican Party.
His disaster-prone brother, Jeff, delivered in a kind of mild frenzy by David A. Austin, is prone to epic malapropisms, and awkward social behavior in his pursuit of the actuary, Diana Bingley, in the person of Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Tony-nominated for the two roles she played, Kate and Lucy, in Broadway’s prize-winning “Avenue Q.”
Farah Alvin is Marcy Fitzwilliams, like Austin, unlucky in love, a photographer who has, acting on unreliable advice from the overly organized Diana, identified the lanky jingle-writer as someone she’d be sure not to hit it off with, thereby clearing her emotional decks for something more promising.
The two couples get together by listing themselves on the internet matchmaking service, J-date, despite the fact that none of the four is, in fact, Jewish, which is one of the evening’s lamer jokes.
“NYC Man” and “NYC Woman,” as the utilitarian third pair are listed in the program, are, respectively, Jordan Leeds and Courtney Balan, supplying a series of bartenders and waitpersons, plus the owner-operators of a Chinese restaurant of the sort which serves wine-in-a-box, and where Austin and Marcy have a spectacularly unsatisfactory meal.
The scheme, which Diana, who is nothing of not something of a control freak, concocts for Marcy involves her actuarial tools, plus an abacus and is decidedly wobbly and rather tossed off in feeling, as are many of the show’s aspects.
The lyrics by Notre Dame graduate Cunningham are self-indulgent to the extent that, at one point, he attempts to rhyme “laundry” with “quandary, and, at another, “important” with “shortened,” if memory serves. The English Department out in South Bend would be appalled.
In Peter Shaffer’s play, “Amadeus,” the musical dilettante Austrian emperor Joseph II complains to Mozart that his works contain “too many notes.”
Something similar exists in the score Cunningham and composer Salzman, both graduates of New York University’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, have conjured up for “I Love You Because,” their mutual New York stage debut.
At times, Cunningham’s lyrics seem shoe-horned into Salzman’s music, which, on its own, feels nervous and harried. The score, which never really settles down, virtually begs for a ballad, which any or all of the performers, with particular emphasis on Hanlon and, in those moments when her apparent nervous tension doesn’t cause her to push into an unpleasant stridency, Alvin.
In a way, the most distinctly easygoing and most smoothly-produced voice belongs to Leeds, who, in his dogsbody assignment, doesn’t get to sing very much. Nor does the deft Balan, who, along with Leeds, spends far too much of the show’s two-hour-plus running time pushing furniture, including a decidedly ugly orange sofa and a lot of rather tacky-looking bar and restaurant elements, Chinese and otherwise, on and off the village theatre’s recently reconfigured playing area.
The venerable old Bleecker Street space has sometimes resembled a cramped nightclub, with the requisite number of tiny tables and chairs for the audience, while the performers are shunted off to one or another corner of the room.
Now, the stage is a long, generous rectangle, with the audience ranged along both long sides of the space, with playgoers, should they choose, able to look past the performers and inspect their fellow attendees.
The scenic design, by Beowulf Boritt and Jo Winiarski, consists mainly of a pair of cartoonish panels, one positioned at each end of the stage. Urban landscapes, with apartment blocks placed at eccentric angles, they resemble flattened versions of the city sculpture of Red Grooms, but pressed down as though for simplified transport.
The oddest single aspect of the staging of the amiable “I Love You Because,” playing, as it is, in a relatively cozy space, is that all six performers are provided with very obvious body microphones, equipment which, it would seem, they wouldn’t need at all in the situation in which they currently find themselves.
Since the mikes are all too visible to the audience, mostly seated just a relatively few away from the performers, it’s safe to say that the most dedicated among the theatergoers must be spending at least a part of the time they’re watching “I Love You Because” pondering the sad state into which discipline in the musical theater has fallen in the course of the last couple of decades.
The ghost of Ethel Merman would probably have a great deal to say on the subject.
“I Love You Because” has its pleasant, even talented aspects, and it is distinctly regrettable, especially considering the show has been given a series of readings, if not actual workshops, that the creative team has settled for so little, considering the charming, even substantial, contemporary urban romance it might have been.
Nevertheless, the show is lighthearted enough to please the forgiving, easily satisfied audience for which it’s been constructed.
One thing is certain young audiences can definitely be expected to respond positively to a pleasant, undemanding show in which they see themselves and their lives more or less accurately, and sympathetically, replicated on the stage.

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