Front Row Reviewers Review: Why I Love ‘i love you because’

Utah Repertory Theater Company presents i love you because, with music by Joshua Salzman, book and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham, orchestration by Larry Hochman, and directed by Ashley Ramsey at the Historic Murray Theater. I have to admit that I was skeptical of a Pride and Prejudice adaptation. There are a lot of inherent risks in taking such a classic story and making it modern, not to mention making it into a musical as well. I was very pleasantly surprised to sit down at this show and be thoroughly entertained by the story line, the music and the excellent production in general.

i love you because is the story of Austin Bennet and Marci Fitzwilliams, who are initially drawn to each other specifically because they are horrible for each other, since neither of them is actually interested in a real relationship. They are prodded on by their brother and friend, Jeff Bennet and Diana Bingley, respectively, who also follow a similar romantic story line. As their relationships progress, they find themselves developing deeper feelings for these people who are totally wrong for them. All the characters are forced to examine what it is they truly see in their partners, and if they can love them in spite of their differences, or even better, because of them.

Director Ashley Ramsey used the stage very effectively, with sets on various levels, and the action moving from place to place all over the stage. Somehow she managed to do that without the show ever feeling disjointed or isolated. This also allowed the flow of the show to go almost uninterrupted for scene changes, as most of the sets remained in place for the entire show, and the pieces that needed to be moved were done so quickly, often while your attention was on another area of the stage.

The actors were all highly talented. Billy Hagee as Austin Bennet did a great job of portraying his need for order and stability, along with the conflict of starting to fall for someone who really pushed his boundaries. This was contrasted by his brother Jeff, played by Brandon Roach, who was outrageous, funny and chaotic, and who often didn’t make any sense at all. I loved his quirkiness and commitment to his character which added a lot of personality to this show.

I really enjoyed Jordan Hall’s portrayal of Diana Bingley. She took a character that could have been stiff and hard to relate to, and made her fun and charismatic. Even though Diana is cynical and a little jaded, you’ll want to root for her. I think the highlight for her in the show is her duet with Jeff “We’re Just Friends” where they extol the advantages of being friends with benefits.

Amanda Crawley, Andrew Foree, Twyla Spittle and Johnny Wilson don’t have named characters in the show, but they all deserve them. They each played various characters that brought depth and contrast to the show. I absolutely loved “The Perfect Romance” which had Twyla and Johnny dancing across the stage beautifully, carrying around various props and set pieces to set up a series of scenes highlighting how horribly matched Austin and Marcy were. These four made a cast of only eight feel like much more. They were each required to play more than one character, and they made them each of them distinct, larger than life, and absolutely entertaining.

All of these actors make a compelling reason to see this show. But the real reason you need to come see i love you because is Madeline Weinberger as Marcy Fitzwilliams.  I cannot imagine a better portrayal of this character could be accomplished by anyone. Madeline’s performance was perfect. I really don’t know what else to say. Come watch her for yourself and see what I mean. Her singing is beautiful, her acting is fabulous, and she fills her character with purpose, conflict and attitude. I hope to see her in many more shows in the future.

No show is perfect, and this one did have some flaws. There were some issues with the lighting on a few scenes, preventing the audience from seeing the actor’s faces, and some of the cues seemed slightly delayed, not lighting the actors until after they’d started singing. The live music, which otherwise enhanced the performance, sometimes overpowered the singers during the quieter moments. There were also a few vocal mistakes by various actors. None of these errors were egregious, however, and did very little to take away from an excellent show.

The costuming, done by Allen Stout, was excellent, and brought some very fun moments into the show. Getting costuming to stand out in a modern show can be difficult, as it can seem like the actors just showed up in their regular clothes. Allen did a great job of enhancing the characters through their wardrobes, and keeping them consistent through a lot of costume changes. The set was also great tool for the actors to use in telling their story. I would have loved for Marcy’s room to be a little more bohemian to match her personality, but overall the set was quirky and fun.

The venue is fun as well, being in an old movie theater which has been converted for stage performances. It is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The biggest downside to the location is parking. There really isn’t any parking to speak of, and we had to park down the street a ways where we could find a spot on the side of the road. The seating inside the theater is a bit of a problem as well. Although it is tiered, the back rows of the first tier were not very good for seeing what was happening on the bottom level of the stage. Luckily they were good about letting people sitting in the culprit rows move somewhere that allowed them a better view if seats were available.

This show contains some mature content and themes, there is some sexually themed dialogue and situations, as well as consumption of alcohol, and some mild swearing.

i love you because runs through April 5. I highly recommend you go see this show.

Produced by Johnny Hebda
Directed/Choreographed by Ashley Ramsey
Music Directed by Justin Bills

—David Henry, Front Row Reviewers, March 24, 2013