RIOTOUS, rude and oh-so relevant, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change promises shocks and surprises plus character and costume changes galore in York Light Opera Company’s hands from tonight.
Writer Joe DiPietro and composer Jimmy Roberts’ off-Broadway musical comedy is directed by Neil Wood at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, in its 2018 updated revamp in a witty look at how we love, date and handle relationships.
Guiding love’s path through a series of comedic and poignant vignettes will be Richard Bayton, Emma Dickinson, James Horsman, Sanna Jeppsson, Mark Simmonds and Monica Frost and Emily Hardy in their first principal roles for York Light, as love lives are reflected in art, up close and personal.
“It holds the record as the second longest-running revue staged off-Broadway,” says Neil. “Originally it was done with a cast of four, but we decided to double it to eight to be able to swap things around, and when one cast member dropped out, we stuck to seven.
“We did the first read-through and sing-through in April, so it’s a quick turnaround for a show, but we’ve still had the time to explore a lot of multi-role playing. Some of the cast are playing as many as eight characters, so we did some Laban technique workshops, looking at how characters are created, getting inside them and how the actors move.”
His first step as the director was to find the world depicted in the show’s 20 vignettes. “Then you must find the key thing within each scene; those moments that are poignant; those moments that are the turning point for a character.
“To do that, we had a really rigid rehearsal timescale with only two scenes per night, to really explore each scene, one running to eight minutes, the others to five or six minutes. It’s not a sung-through musical; some scenes are purely dialogue; some scenes are just a song; others are a mix of dialogue and song.
“Those songs vary in style from a Luther Vandross-style soul number to a country music song and a Rat Pack-style number.”
In her York Light debut after performing for Pick Me Up Theatre and York Stage, Swedish-born Sanna Jeppsson will be playing eight roles. “They vary from young and bold to old and experienced; shy and timid to a downtrodden housewife; a happy single woman to a sporty type – a tennis player, though the only thing I do for that is carry a tennis racket!” she says.
“It’s a fantastic array of characters in a show that has such a variety of scenes that can be real or twist reality in others, where you can go more crazy with a character.”
Neil chips in: “That’s when you have to decide whether a scene is naturalistic or you can break the fourth wall and be very Brechtian, grabbing the audience by the hand or talking directly to them.
“I’ve been really impressed with what the cast has done in making 3D characters. Once you’ve created a scene, you can develop those characters and they have to be true. As well as their physicality, you need to find their vulnerability.
“That’s a key thing we’ve worked on: the intimacy of the scenes where you’re almost a voyeur into people’s most vulnerable moments.”
Last seen on stage leading York Light’s cast in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, Neil is enjoying pulling the strings from the director’s chair. “When we get into Theatre@41, half the fun will be the quick changes, with some full costume changes in only 30 seconds to the accompaniment of scene-change music,” he says.
“The show is split into two 55-minute halves with a 20-minute interval, and the joy for the audience is that everyone will see relationships on stage that they recognise or have been in themselves.
“It’s laugh-out-loud funny, a show where you will come out beaming from ear to ear – and you don’t have to think too hard either!”
For Sanna, the rehearsal process has contrasted with her past productions in York. “That’s because this show is so episodic, so it’s almost felt like a different play at each rehearsal, which has been fun as an actor,” she says. “Now it’ll be fascinating to see what kind of reaction we’ll get from the audience, as we bring all those scenes together.
“I’ve been there most nights, where we’ve rehearsed two scenes a night, and it hasn’t felt frantic at all, just enjoying developing new scenes at each rehearsal.”
Neil adds: “We’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to do it episodically, with the majority of the rehearsals being done chronologically, which has helped the cast.”
He savours the accumulative impact of the 20 vignettes. “It’s not just 20 one-act plays, but real people, real amotions, real life, and it’s our job to make each scene as realistic as possible; to find the truth of these people,” he says.
“What I love about Joe DiPietro’s writing is that you definitely get every character’s viewpoint in each scene. He’s very clever at doing that.
“In the updated version, there’s been a gender swap in the Two Franks scene, and if there’s one scene that’s a caricature, it’s that scene, but then the reality comes through.”
Neil believes he has come up trumps in finding a cast able to play multiple roles. Sanna, in turn, is thrilled to be taking on that challenge. “I’ve had my eyes on this show for many years, waiting for this opportunity after first hearing about it when I was training in London in 2013/2014,” she says.
“I thought, ‘I’d love to do a show with all these characters parts’, and now the chance has come. It’s everything I imagined it would be – and more. It’s been a joy to work on because the script is really good, the songs are really good…and the director is really good, obviously!”
Sanna will be playing characters ranging in age from 25 to 75, and as she added each new one in rehearsal, she found she could not decide on a favourite. She does, however, then highlight her scene with James Horsman, where they play two old people discussing love in a funeral parlour.
“It’s such a beautifully written scene that says so much with such carefully chosen words,” she says.
Neil picks out Monica’s closing second-half monologue. “It’s set around online dating and that thing of what we want people to see, rather than who we are, and yet then she realises her true story is far more fascinating,” he says.
Twenty vignettes with so many characters call for a diversity of American accents. “I don’t think it would work if you were to transfer it to Yorkshire or France, but you can place it anywhere in America. Some of the scenes are very American,” says Neil.
“The rhythms of the language scream American,” says Sanna. “Though I did read that it has been translated into a number of languages and it’s been done with Australian accents, but not with British ones.”
“The country song, Always A Bridesmaid, needs to be sung in a Tammy Wynette style,” reemphasises Neil.
As opening night arrives, he concludes: “This is a lovely show to finish off York Light’s 70th anniversary, something a little different, all about love.”
York Light Opera Company in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight (27/6/2023) until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.