In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Karen Estrada and Rick Pendzich are two of the stars in "I Love You" at Skylight Music Theatre. (PHOTO: Mark Frohna)

Skylight delivers perfection with "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change"

I love you.

You're perfect.

NOW DON'T CHANGE!! DON'T EVER CHANGE!!

That's the reaction to the incredibly delightful musical "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" which opened over the weekend at Skylight Music Theatre. The production is perfect, and there's not a single change to make with this show.

Under the creative stage direction and choreography of Pam Kriger and musical direction of Jack Forbes Wilson, this chestnut of a wild and wonderful look at love, lust and loss is a cotton candy treat that is as funny as anything you are likely to see this season.

This confection ran for over 5,000 performances off Broadway and has been produced all over the world many times. There are good reasons for that success, and they are all on full display thanks to a quartet of actors who play so many characters in so many costumes that it seems as if this is a cast of dozens.

Karen Estrada, Rick Pendzich, Kathryn Hausman and Doug Clemons sing, dance and act with such sparkle, sensitivity and skill that there was laughter throughout the Cabot Theatre from the show's earliest moments to the end of the performance.

The musical is a series of skits, a revue of sorts, that covers the journey of love from "Canata for a First Date" to "Funerals are for Dating" with stops all along the way on the path of relationships. The skits range from the riotous to the sexy to the chaste and to the touching, each one a separate look at one part of relationships.

The first skit right off the bat is the First Date with Kathryn and Doug as a couple who are meeting for the first time after noticing each other on Tinder. They decide they both hate first dates, so they agree to move to the second date, but quickly realize they want to move to a third date with sex included, but after that, they skip to the morning after when they both try to figure out how to get out of what they did the night before, and then skip to the part where they've dated for two months and she is getting real interested in him but he is starting to back away and….

DOUG: Or we could right to the time when you ask me if that dress makes you look fat and I don't answer quickly enough and you don't speak to me for three days.

KATHRYN: Possibly, or we could go right to when you tell me you want to start dating other women and I give you an ultimatum and you choose to leave me but an hour later you come crawling back like a whimpering dog.

DOUG: I always liked that part. But it's so time-consuming. What if we jump right to our first argument?

KATHRYN: You mean you want to skip all the positives of our relationship and jump right to our first fight?

DOUG: Be a major time-saver.

And they are off and running.

It's all that kind of repartee and blithe humor that gives this play its warmth and its easily recognizable moments in the lives of anyone who has ever had a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

This show has been done so often that you really need creativity to keep it fresh. Kriger and Wilson have come up with a series of answers that are almost dazzling in their variety.

Wilson and his grand piano are center stage on risers, with his small orchestra, bassist Tom McGirr, violinist Pamela Simmons and the incredible percussionist Michael Lorenz arrayed in full view of the audience.

Wilson, who was spectacular in the "Liberace" show twice at The Rep, is one of the most animated performers in town, and Kriger takes full advantage of his personality, having him pitch in with expression at unexpected times.

Perhaps the most touching moment in the entire show comes when Estrada, having made a date to cook for Clemons that night, plaintively sings about the impending end to her loneliness.

Well, pop the champagne, break out the cologne
Turn up the moonlight and turn off the phone
Well, what a surprise, a man is in sight
And I will be loved tonight

It's a poignant moment that is a relief from the almost constant laughter, and Estrada wrings every single emotion out of it.

Kriger is a choreographer by training, and the entire show is full of her inventive work. Nothing is more interesting than the dance when the four actors ride in a car, structured out of four office chairs, each on rollers. The choreography featuring the four chairs during this dance is some of the most interesting that I have ever seen.

Estrada, Pendzich and Clemons are are all veterans of the musical theater world in Milwaukee. They each have great style and ability, and they are joined by Hausman, a relative new comer and an eye-opener. She has a wonderful voice and a sense of comic timing that I hope we see again.

She and other young musical talents, like Samantha Sostarich, are the kind of artists who inspire confidence in the future of musical theater in Milwaukee.

"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" runs through Feb. 19 and information on tickets and showtimes is available here.


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