Since the 1996 New York City premiere of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, former advertising copywriter and self-confessed political junkie Joe DiPietro has seen countless versions of his play, which “mocks what we all go through in relationships, but ultimately celebrates them”.
One of the most memorable, he says, was a “terrific production” in Madrid, Spain, notable not only for its presentation in Catalan but also for its very sexy cast. “In the US, we often write about dumpy people trying to find love, but here were four very sexy Spaniards in tight-fitting clothes” delivering his dialogue in a language he didn’t quite follow.
DiPietro was working in advertising in his late 20s when he began writing political sketches, which were performed in basement theatre bars in New York. When he decided to write some sketches about dating, they were so well received that something clicked — people want to hear about themselves.
“The actors used to call it ‘the nudge show’, because they could see audience members nudging one another when they recognised themselves in it.
“It makes fun of relationships, but there’s a lot of heart to it too.”
A producer who saw the show recognised its potential as a musical revue and encouraged DiPietro to put music to it. At the time, he didn’t know what musical theatre was, but he contacted the composer, Jimmy Roberts, and initiated a two-year collaboration in what is now the second-longest-running Off-Broadway musical after the Fantasticks. The songs have a popular, contemporary feel, but are designed to be surprisingly different from each other, with lyrics by DiPietro linking to the journey of the characters.
Despite being 20 years old, his show has not dated. “I always say that every character is me, and none of the characters is me. It’s glib, but it’s true. I need to write characters from the inside out. What I’ve learnt from writing is that we’re all essentially the same. We might be different nationalities, religions, genders, sexual preferences, whatever — but deep down we all want the same things out of life: to love and be loved, to have a purpose. Since I figured that out as a writer, I’m able to write men, women, older people, younger people.
“This show easily has as much of the women’s point of view as the male point of view.”
DiPietro quit advertising the month his show opened, knowing that he had to “try this for a year” otherwise he wasn’t going to do it. Since then he has won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score for Memphis, which was also awarded the 2010 Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. His other shows include All Shook Up, The Toxic Avenger and The Thing About Men (the latter two winners of the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical). His plays include the much-produced comedy Over the River and Through the Woods, The Art of Murder (Edgar Award winner for Best Mystery Play), Creating Claire and The Last Romance.
“I advise young writers that once you write a show, you have to let it walk and grow up on its own. You have to want to see your work be reinterpreted,” says DiPietro. “It’s also about learning how to give up control. Every night is a different audience. That dictates the pulse of the show.”
VRG Theatrical’s production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change opens in Cape Town on July 20 and in Johannesburg on August 10. The four cast members, directed by Elizma Badenhorst, portray more than 52 characters with the help of over 30 wardrobe and wig changes. They are Neels Clasen (We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia!), Brandon Lindsay (Phantom of the Opera, Starlight Express, West Side Story), Taryn-Lee Hudson (Jersey Boys, Singin’ in the Rain) and Fleur du Cap Theatre Award nominee Claire Taylor (Cabaret, Sunset Boulevard and Dirty Dancing). They will be accompanied by piano and violin under the musical direction of Wessel Odendaal and musical staging by Timothy le Roux. The pop-art inspired set, wardrobe and costume design are by Niall Griffin.
• I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change runs at Theatre on the Bay in Camps Bay from July 20 until August 6 and at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre from August 10 until September 4. Book through Computicket