As it turns out, the collection of sketches and songs by Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and Jimmy Roberts (music) is a fairly haphazard compendium of familiar guy-girl clichés set in tunes that, musically, only occasionally rise above the banal. But thanks to relentlessly energetic and inventive performances by a cast of four at Carousel Dinner Theatre, the evening is surprisingly delightful.
Loosely organized around a chronology that extends from a nervous first date to an elderly twosome who meet at a funeral parlor, I Love You pounds away at any number of conventional dating and marital scenarios, but the material and the performers ignite often enough to fashion some truly amusing moments and even, now and then, a flash of insight.
The two women, Jennifer Swiderski and Holly Davis (an understudy who performed on this night), scored early with a smoky rendition of Single Man Drought, smilingly lying to their clueless dates and wishing to be somewhere else, to be a lesbian -- to be anything other than stuck with the loser across the table.
Slender and expressive, Swiderski can belt Broadway style and also does a nice turn in the country-western anthem "Always a Bridesmaid," pulling a can of beer from the bodice of a bridesmaid's dress so hideous, it would cause Mr. Blackwell to retract everything he's said about Britney Spears. Davis also has a number of high points, including a hilarious Jewish mother who keeps her family rolling "On the Highway of Love" and a richly amusing and poignant monologue in "The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz."
The boys are every bit their equal. Gavin Esham essays a number of characters with consistent charm and precision. He's a stitch as a guy trapped at a chick flick with his date, only to collapse in a welter of tears. And in another scene, when his wife asks him to test a gift teddy bear to make sure the eyes don't pose a swallowing danger to their infant, Esham chews on the large plush toy with comical abandon. Mark Sanders delivers the show's best song, "Shouldn't I Be Less in Love With You?", with tender feeling, as his wife of many years keeps her head buried in the morning paper.
One sign of the skill possessed by the cast and director Donna Drake comes before the underwhelming title song in the penultimate scene, when Swiderski and Esham meet by accident as septuagenarians at a wake. Neither overdoes the old-coot shtick in search of easy laughs, and the scene -- which could have easily tipped into farce -- comes off as genuinely sweet. All in all, this production's not as perfect as the title, but there's plenty to love.
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