The new Off-Broadway musical I Love You Because is clever, cute, and well-sung, and loveable not despite the generic substance, but because of it. Forget the flaws in pacing and musical composition and take this show for what it is: an entertaining, no-strings-attached fling.
Though two songs precede it, I Love You Because really begins with the witty pretty patter, “The Actuary Song.” In this scene, Diana explains—mathematically—how to get over a bad breakup and find happiness. The explanation’s too complex for words (which makes the singing of those words all the more impressive), but the Q.E.D. is that Marcy has to date Mr. Wrong so that she’ll be ready for Mr. Right. That man—both of them—is Austin, a “professional poet” (i.e. greeting-card writer) who lives according to a safe and well-rehearsed plan, even though his “plan” has been cheating on him with another guy. As Austin spends their first date talking about his ex (“But I Don’t Want to Talk About Her”), Marcy realizes he’s perfect: perfectly horrible.
Their relationship gets a bit more serious, at least melodically, and so for comic relief, Diana falls for her polar opposite, Austin’s older brother, Jeff (who is horrible: horribly perfect). As David A. Austin plays him, Jeff is simultaneously charming and immature, and realistically over-the-top. Alongside the very talented Stephanie D’Abruzzo, these two steal the entire show (hell, the entire musical season), and I only wish the entire show could be as frenetically funny as their romantic satire “We’re Just Friends” (with benefits).
Unfortunately, the Diana/Jeff scenes are so upbeat (even their breakup song “That’s What’s Gonna Happen” is funny) that the main plot seems a bit lethargic. Colin Hanlon, who plays Austin, doesn’t have as much chemistry with Marcy, nor do they have much to sing about (though he and Farah Alvin certainly have wide ranges and strong voices). Joshua Salzman’s music and the accompanying band are good for punchy up-tempo hits, but they lack a ballad’s range. The score gets repetitious, and even Ryan Cunningham’s delightfully playful lyrics can't hide that. And because every thought is inevitably sung, even when it’s blatantly obvious, some songs get a little repetitious. (NYC Man and NYC Woman—Jordan Leeds and Courtney Balan, the chorus—are perky and energetic, but do we really need the unfunny play-by-play of their song “The Perfect Romance”?)
I Love You Because is a lot like one of Austin’s greeting cards. (It even looks like one: the stage, sandwiched by the audience, has cartoon-like buildings on each end of the set.) That makes it sweet and amusing, and full of some occasionally brilliantly-put observations, but it’s also risk-free, and therefore distanced and impersonal (despite the highly intimate space). But what can I say? Despite (or because) of all that, it’s very catchy, superficial fun, anchored by some truly superb acting and singing, and I recommend it anyway, because sometimes love is just like that.
Village Theater (158 Bleecker Street)
Tickets: $20.00-$65.00 (212-307-4100)
Performances: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday @ 8:00; Saturday @ 7:00 and 10:00; Sunday @ 3:00 and 7:00.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.