Arts & Culture » Theater

Humor Me

City Theatre lets the good times roll


Act One of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, the rambunctious revue for hopeful heterosexuals that's closing out the City Theatre season, builds to a scene titled "Scared Straight." In this broad spoof of the Scared Straight! prison documentary, a convicted mass murderer browbeats a young man into proposing to a woman with whom he has nothing in common. The scene is in the hilarious tradition of the sketch comedies performed on the classic 1950s television series Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar. As the murderer-turned-matchmaker, Terry Meddows delivers a slam-bang performance worthy of the mighty Caesar himself.

If every single one of these twenty sketches about dating and wedding rituals and the challenges of marriage isn't on that same high level, this production is so full of insouciant good cheer, it's difficult to imagine anyone not finding something to like. And if, on the other hand, much of this material is also as ephemeral as Tinkerbell -- if as you exit the theater at the end of Act Two you've already forgotten much of what amused you in Act One -- that comes with the territory. Writers of revues like to imagine themselves as satirists, but more often they're just slight. And highly derivative.

From the moment this six-person ensemble appears onstage in terrycloth robes reminiscent of the soon-to-be-nude cast of Oh, Calcutta! (another popular revue whose inflated ambitions were slightly more salacious), I Love You borrows (its creators might say "lampoons") without shame. From Helen Reddy to Elvis Presley, from Barbara Cook to Loretta Lynn -- from Seinfeld storylines to Stephen Sondheim's Company -- the only real criticism one might make of I Love You is that it's so busy copying, it never finds time to say anything original.

Not that you'll care all that much while in the company of such a uniformly appealing cast. The original off-Broadway production, which this summer will celebrate its eighth birthday, sports a cast of four. In a savvy move, City Theatre has added two actors. Under the zestful direction of Milton Zoth, at some point or other in the evening everyone shines.

When Meddows isn't aping Sid Caesar, he's inverting his feet to spoof Jerry Lewis. Meddows' imitative ingenuity is matched by Michael Jokerst, who -- when sporting a seedy toupee -- bears an apt resemblance to Dick Martin of Laugh-In fame. Kari Ely can don a wig and suddenly sound like Olympia Dukakis. (We know that clothes make the man, but since when did hair make the voice?) The attractive ensemble is amply filled out by the exceedingly charming Deborah Sharn, who need not do anything but smile to resemble Lauren Hutton on a good day. Rosemary Watts has one of the evening's few affecting moments as a divorcée taping a dating video. And Chopper Leifheit transforms sketch comedy into a living cartoon when he tries to determine whether a stuffed teddy bear is child-friendly.

Then there's St. Louis' own piano man, Joe Dreyer, who has scored arrangements that actually make the show's unnervingly thin songs at least sound amiable. He can't do much about the fast-food, drip-dry lyrics (awkward rhymes like "velourish" and "whorish" are more prevalent than one might hope), but Dreyer inventively bridges the sketches with musical comments on what we've seen: Here, a tune that might have been played as an accompaniment to a silent movie; there, some bourbon-stained notes straight out of a honky-tonk bar. His sly piano is occasionally -- but strategically -- enhanced by Laura Ann Sexauer's violin. Sexauer provides the scattershot revue with its only constant, for with a welcome and slinky flourish she also changes the title cards that introduce each sketch.

If it's a musical with substance you seek, the dynamic New Jewish production of William Finn's Falsettos is still on display. But if you're in an escapist mood for some sure laughs, an evening of frivolity spent in the company of an attractive and knowing cast, this show was designed for you. I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change is so cheerfully inoffensive, it might well become Gen X's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

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