Joel Bishoff, who directed I Love You in New York, mounted a San Francisco production in May with some members of the original cast. It was such a hit that the Marines Memorial Theatre is now letting the production run through Labor Day with local actors.
There's nothing wrong with the cast. Colin Thomson and Danielle Thys both bring color to their roles; if Jeff Leibow and Loren White are less interesting that's only because they're stuck playing straight man and woman in a very straight, generic show.
I Love You opens with the mysterious "Cantata for a First Date," which has all four members of the cast wearing druid robes. They intone some silly words before stripping into sexy, pre-first-date slips and undershirts and singing an unbelievably banal complaint about the Dating Life. "Hair spray, hair spritz/ Wax the legs, shave the pits," sing the women. Then the men: "I will knot my tie/ And before I go will check my fly/ It is women who have turned me into this ...," while talented pianist William Liberatore and violinist Mary Pitchford play Jimmy Roberts' bright, simple score.
Then Thomson and Thys do an amusing skit about Pam and Stan, who, on their first date, decide to skip straight to the second date to avoid all those first-date nerves. Come to think of it, why not skip to the third date? Or go straight to sex? (Stan doesn't mind.) Wait -- how about the first argument? Or maybe meeting-a-year-after-they've-broken-up-and-Stan-has-his-arm-around-another-woman? This routine shows a glimmer of promise that the next song, "A Stud and a Babe," snuffs. Leibow and White sit across a table and pretend to be nerds (although both could audition for modeling work), wishing they were cooler, handsomer, sexier. "My breasts would be rounder," she laments. "My pecs would astound her," he answers, and the audience ... laughs.
Of course, public standards for musicals are in the toilet, which may be the problem. We need to bring back the tradition of throwing tomatoes or eggs. Joe DiPietro has written lowest-common-denominator lyrics and skits that have so little definition, so little original thought, that any audience can project its own stories onto the show. For some reason this works. (For some reason we let it.) Most reviews of I Love You have been indulgently positive, even if they acknowledge that DiPietro has said nothing new, as if saying nothing new were not a cardinal artistic sin. DiPietro's skits avoid treating heartbreak and love as anything individual or idiosyncratic. Instead of saying, "This is what it was like for me," they reach for an easy universality, as if to say, "It's like this for everyone, kinda." And the audience just says, "Yeah."
A few bits are worthwhile. "Always a Bridesmaid" has a country-ballad wistfulness and features Thys in a hideous purple dress with a big bow. She comes on screeching, "Bye-bye everything was so beautiful have fun in Cancun!" -- chasing after the happy couple -- then sings a lilting song about feeling left behind in the marriage race. "My friends can't assess/ A man, or a dress," she weeps. The song is easily the show's highlight, and Thys delivers it with a clever, shameless flair.
The song "Hey There Single Guy/ Gal" deals with a young couple announcing their breakup, instead of their engagement, at a family dinner table. Thomson and White play the stunned parents, trying to hold in their grief over the lost potential for grandkids. They sing in a needling tuneless rhythm that nicely satirizes nagging parents; the edginess also makes a welcome change from the syrup in the rest of the score.
One other song is worthwhile: "Shouldn't I Be Less in Love With You?" is an earnest ballad about married bliss, performed by Leibow while his onstage wife, Thys, sits frumpily at breakfast in a robe.
The captivating moments are rare, though, and I Love You is just an overstuffed potboiler that the actors have to play with a knowing dose of irony wherever they can. "'For art's sake' alone I would not face the toil of writing a single sentence," wrote George Bernard Shaw in a rant against belles-lettres in the 1890s; this is art for money's sake, and I really wonder how DiPietro managed.