The original production of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change ran for over 12 years Off-Broadway and it is easy to see why. A deceptively simple set, a showcase for four musical theatre performers, some clever laughs and a very addictive score make for a pleasant evening at the theatre. Fortunately Angelwalk Theatre and director Evan Tsitsias have more than "pleasant" on their mind and while this is not a completely subversive evening, it does get under one's skin in an intriguing way.
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change presents itself as a revue/romp through the heterosexual lifestyle, from first date to marriage to children to death, but the laughs all come at how much can go wrong and how constricting the conventions are. Not news in 2013, but the choice to play it darker and with a satirical edge brings the show up to date. One number has been reconfigured with a husband-husband couple and while it seems to come out of nowhere, it raises no eyebrows. We've fought for marriage and picket fences but we should look closely at what we're buying into. It's nice to be in the mainstream but I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change asks if we're sure that's somewhere we want to swim.
A production that crosses gender lines more fluidly would reveal some fascinating tensions but this production is more eager to entertain, the tensions can sink in after. The cast is more than up to the task of delineating the dozens of characters they are called on to play and while the text can often be sitcomish, the songs are glorious. Christopher Alan Gray bites into the hilarious "Tear Jerk" and Leslie Kay sells "I Will Be Loved Tonight" as if it were an eleven o'clock number. Alison O'Neill is comic joy with "Always A Bridesmaid" and from Dean Hollin's first bluesy lick, belting "I've got baggage," the audience is on his side. Hollin gets a big moment with the wistful ballad "Shouldn't I Be Less In Love With You?" that is simply touching and beautiful.
Love found and lost and just what one is willing to settle for is a lot of weight for a night of comedy and song, but I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change puts the delicious poison in a slick package with some stellar performances and sends the audience out singing. That love is paramount isn't a new message, but it is always a welcome one.
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change continues until Sun, June 2 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts Studio Theatre, 5040 Yonge St. angelwalk.ca
No question that "the gays" love Lady Gaga. Who could resist anyone, especially one who consistently dresses outrageously in high fashion gone deliciously wrong, who wraps gay liberation and self-empowerment anthems in a glossy, catchy pop finish? The best pop art is subversive and Gaga manages to be blatant as well as sugary - it is impossible to resist singing along, dancing and smiling to "Born This Way" even if it is a recycled Madonna tune. Towards the end of Of a Monstrous Child: A Gaga Musical a lecturer on a tall podium rants that Gaga is "a ruthless recycler." What pop artist isn't?
Buddies is guilty of a bit of misleading advertising: Of a Monstrous Child is not a musical in any traditional sense and anyone expecting a jukebox presentation of Gaga's hits or a singing-dancing extravaganza will be disappointed. But anyone fascinated by performance art, gay art or an exploration of Gaga's influences and influence will be immersed in a well-researched and cleverly staged theatrical event. When the ideas are proclaimed the production occasionally devolves into an illustrated lecture (though there is abundant male nudity to compensate for those who tune out the overflow of words). When the ideas are married to a visual representation the results are striking: a fashion show by Gaga's progenitors, two hipsters trying to out-hip each other (though the very funny vivisection of hipsterdom is ironic, and we do get a delightful lecture on irony as well, in a show dripping with hipster irony), and Michael Alig, the monster-gone-wrong, in a narcissist cell.
The basic musical idea is brilliant, with mash-ups of influences and Gaga songs either illustrating where the influences came from or commenting on the intersections and ideas. That the music isn't louder and clearer is unfortunate but dovetails nicely with the hipster vivisection. Buddies once again presents a technically flawless presentation, with projections and visual thrills keeping the action moving.
The cast is enthusiastic and committed with Bruce Dow conjuring up a mesmerizing Leigh Bowery who frightens and seduces with equal ease. Gavin Crawford is a whirlwind of characters and caricatures - his Cher brings down the house - but is also saddled with a longish impersonation of Camille Paglia who is probably the antithesis of a musical. Tyson James brings a wonder and longing as The Little Monster who is our guide to the flood of characters and history - his performance will undoubtedly cause much googling when audience members are inspired to investigate further into gay history and performance art. Chy Ryan Spain and Kyle Travis Young dance up a storm - Spain captures Grace Jones' hauteur with a stylish wink - and Young has the most heartbreaking moment in an impassioned but note perfect rendering of a closeted gay's anguished letter to Gaga. At the centre of it all is Kimberly Persona as Gaga. She looks the part and sings passionately but remains a bit of a cipher, which seems to be the point of the whole production. Is the Gaga persona real or a clever marketing ploy? Of a Monstrous Child doesn't have a definitive answer but offers many provocative possibilities and anyone who sees the show will appreciate a new depth in "Born This Way."
Of a Monstrous Child: A Gaga Musical continues until Sun, May 26 at Buddies, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com