Musical revue prescribes laughter as the best medicine for relationship drama

Taylor Ciotti bemoans a not-so-satisfying romantic encounter in a scene from "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."
Taylor Ciotti (left) laments a less-than-satisfying romantic encounter.

Bad dates and breakups are much easier to laugh off when they happen on stage to someone else.

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” was the latest production by the University of Southern Maine’s Osher School of Music. Performed in a musical revue-style format, it ran for four shows between January 26 and January 28 at Corthell Hall in Gorham.

There’s no consistent storyline. Instead, a series of vignettes explore the absurdities of modern relationships. Some scenes are spoken while others are sung. They proceed through the stages of coupledom in chronological order from flirtation to dating and marriage. Even divorce and widowhood provide fodder for comedy.

“I guess I’d just say I’m acting my ass off,” said Taylor Ciotti. “I’ve experienced little to nothing of what all the characters in this show are going through.”

A sophomore majoring in Musical Theatre Performance, Ciotti had a couple of big scenes early in the show. The song “Single Man Drought” let Ciotti vent about a miserable dinner date.

Ciotti’s disappointments continued into the bedroom a few scenes later. The tryst was staged as an infomercial, complete with a fast-talking pitchman who promises that all parties will be compensated if not fully satisfied.

Rita Micklus' prayers for her son's engagement go unanswered in a scene from "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."
Rita Micklus unleashes her parental guilt in the song “Hey There, Single Guy.”

While the comedy elements were over-the-top, the sexual content was handled discretely and without nudity. An intimacy coordinator worked with the actors during rehearsal to set clear boundaries. Ciotti appreciated the respect that was shown to them.

“She worked all of that out with us so there are no surprises in what we do,” Ciotti said. “Everything has been practiced and rehearsed and discussed so both of us are comfortable with each other on stage.”

Rita Micklus faced a different challenge. As a senior in the Musical Theatre program, she’s only slightly older than Ciotti, but Micklus’ roles required her to act a full generation older to play a middle-aged wife with kids. Memories of her parents helped her get into character for a scene about keeping the peace on a family vacation.

“I grew up in a family where we went on a lot of road trips,” Micklus said. “We drove from Machias up in Downeast Maine to Florida. So that is more of a personal experience kind of thing.”

Micklus was able to show her range elsewhere in the show by envisioning an alternate future for herself. In the song “Always a Bridesmaid,” she wrestled with her feelings about remaining single while her friends got married and started families. Micklus performed her part as written, but another wedding scene strayed from the script to account for the changing times.

Act One of the Osher School of Music production of "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" ends in a wedding.
Act One ends in a wedding.

“The original Act One finale is a bride and a groom and we brought it to 2024 by having two brides,” said director Ed Reichert. “That’s one example where we’re trying to make it more relevant.”

All of the couples in the show were heterosexual when it premiered in 1996 at an off-Broadway theater in New York City. The dialogue retains references to Clinton-era celebrities like Sharon Stone and Sylvester Stallone. A character’s obsession with the 1980 movie “Caddyshack” is the butt of an extended joke.

Other parts of the script allow for tinkering to keep the show fresh. The USM production inserted Maine landmarks into lines that originally mentioned New York-area geography. Characters shop at the Hannaford supermarket chain and pay a visit to the Maine State Prison.

One of the biggest changes from the original production is the size of the ensemble. The show was designed for a four-person cast. As a vocal coach at the Osher School, Reichert wanted to afford as many opportunities as possible for his students. He remixed the scenes to accommodate 17 performers.

“A lot of us are friends with each other in the program because we’re so small,” Micklus said. “It helps that we already have those connections with each other, so it makes playing and interacting with each other a lot easier.”

The song "Marriage Tango" illustrates how kids always put the brakes on romance between mom and dad in a scene from "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."
Finding time for love as new parents is no easy task, as illustrated by the song “Marriage Tango.”

Their level of trust was especially important in some of the more vulnerable moments, like reaching out for a first kiss or dancing seductively with a feathered boa. If the action on stage felt awkwardly earnest, that was the point. And Reichert predicted the feeling would linger for any lovebirds in the audience.

“There’s that ride in the car home afterwards,” Reichert said and imagined their conversation. “‘Is that what’s going to happen to us? Are we going to be like that?’”

More romantic hijinks are on the way from Reichert’s students at the Osher School. In advance of Valentine’s Day, they’ll perform a concert titled “You Gotta Have Heart! (Sorta Kinda Love Songs)” on Saturday, February 10, at 2 p.m. in Corthell Hall.