For years, both movies and television have romanticized the quest for true love in New York with classics like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and long running tv-shows like Friends. i love you because, playing in its Utah premiere at the Murray Theater, is Off-Broadway’s response to those cinematic success stories. The delightful score (composed by Joshua Salzman) and clever lyrics (by Ryan Cunningham) were not enough to propel it to Broadway fame, but are more than enough to make for an enjoyable evening at the theater.
The story is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Austin Bennet (played by Billy Hagee) is a straight-laced, by-the-rules control freak. Marcie Fitzwilliam (Madeline Weinberger) is a tofu-loving, liberal free-spirit. So of course, when they meet on a blind-double date arranged via a Jewish dating site (although neither character is Jewish), the tension is obvious. Austin can’t shut up about the beautiful and talented ex-girlfriend that he’s determined to win back, and Marcie can’t resist ranting about the fallacies of the male race. They both manage to offend each other thoroughly, as their respective roommates quickly hit it off. From there, Cunningham’s script goes pretty much as expected. Marcie, finding herself oddly attracted to Austin, begins to stalk him (admittedly, this piece of the plot was a bit of stretch), and through a series of events becomes his relationship coach, helping him write a poem that will win him back his lost girlfriend. Things heat up as they spend more time together, and slowly learn to reconcile their notions of love with the reality they face.
The Murray Theater provides a nice venue for this New York piece, with a somewhat battered urban feel that is enhanced by Casey Price’s detailed set design. Ashley Ramsey’s direction is smooth and clever, with seamless transitions that kept the show moving and the audience focused on the important aspects of the plot. She also handled the comic scenes nicely, allowing the jokes to flow naturally without over-acting and applying physical comedy when necessary (including an extremely funny makeout scene in the middle of Act I).
Hagee has a nice voice and has a stiff physicality and clean cut demeanor that suit the character of Austin well. However, it is Weinberger that truly stands out as the feisty, energetic Marcie. She managed to bring both a commanding self-righteousness and an indecisive sensitive side to her character that made her both likeable and relateable. And while she lacked vocal power in her higher register, her lower notes had a warm twang that was lovely to listen to. Jordan Hall brought a grounded no-nonsense attitude to her portrayal of Diana Bingley that balanced Brandon Roach‘s loose, goofy interpretation of Jeff Bennet. The cast is rounded out nicely by four ensemble members who play servers and waiters at the different bars and restaurants frequented by the principal characters. Twyla Spittle and Johnny Wilson had a stand-out performance in the adorable song “The Perfect Romance,” while Andy Foree‘s zany Chinese waiter made for one of the funniest bits of the night.
The show was not without flaws. Sound problems made the first few numbers nearly inaudible, especially in the actuary song where Hall struggled to keep up with the rapid fire tempo of the number. Insufficient lighting (probably due to the budget or space) left actors in the dark for extended periods of time, and while Weinberger and Hagee sounded good together, their chemistry never managed to ignite. Hagee’s Austin simply felt a little too weak to match Weinberger’s Marcie, and bringing a bit more strength to that character would have made their relationship a bit more believable.
That said, just like the quest for true love, a perfect show cannot exist. So rather than wait for a perfect play to come along, head down to the Murray Theater for a delightful retelling of the quest for true love. Like a good lover, you may enjoy i love you because not in spite of its flaws, but because of them.