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Adapting to more modern concepts of love

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By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter

Theater ReviewI Love You, You’re Perfect, Now ChangeBy Joe DiPietroDirected by Menchu Lauchengco-YuloPresented by Repertory Philippines

THERE are multiple facets of love and many stages in a romance, from dating and relationships to break-ups and marriage. An acclaimed off-Broadway musical comedy from 1996, known for being painfully honest and funny in its approach to this topic, is back to bring its witticisms to an online society.

Its impact is now changed, as one will find in this latest version by Repertory Philippines. The company first handled this material by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Brooks in 2006, and this time, it made revisions to ensure the narratives apply to the Gen Z experience. Scenarios now include swiping left or right on dating apps, watching Netflix, a gay couple having a baby, and even rude guys sending dick pics.

“We actually had this show way back 18 years ago when we were still at Onstage Greenbelt. This will be different because it’s the first time we are having Menchu direct a play for Rep,” said Mindy Perez-Rubio, the company’s chief executive officer and president, at the preview night of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.

Under Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo’s watchful eye, the musical revue’s vignettes challenge its four actors to take on 40 characters, each serving fresh takes on modern dating and relationships. It is a challenge met very capably by Gian Magdangal, Krystal Kane, Gabby Padilla, and Marvin Ong, who all shift from one character to the next, complete with costume and body movement and accent changes, as if it were nothing.

“Find someone to love! Someone you think is perfect! And spend the rest of your life trying to change them,” is the funny yet achingly relatable message that the four act out over the course of the play.

Aided by Joey Mendoza’s set design, choreography by Stephen Viñas, projector graphics by GA Fallarme, and lighting by Meliton Roxas, Jr., the actors take us from a romantic dinner date to a busy roadside to a chaotic household to a funeral filled with old people. The actors’ movements and the minimalist set work together to tell an array of stories. Projections of strangers in a crowd amid the hustle and bustle of a metropolis convey the idea of love as simply a part of the ebb and flow of real life, an effective utilization of digital screens in a theater.

Most notably, director Lauchengco-Yulo placed the four actors in roles and songs (given a fresh spin by musical director Ejay Yatco) that brought out the best of them.

Mr. Magdangal, with his towering height, alternates between being a gentle giant and an intimidating hulk. He is hilarious as a man trying his best not to cry at a tearjerker movie while on a date with his girlfriend, and as a gay man speaking to his child in baby talk. The best of his roles is definitely the jailed convict performing “Scared Straight,” a ridiculous matchmaking monologue from hell.

Ms. Padilla’s take on “The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz” comes face to face with a divorcee falling apart during her attempt at online dating. It is literal too, with her selfie camera projected on the massive screen onstage allowing us to see her emotions close-up, perfect for the seasoned actress.

Ms. Kane gives a remarkable performance in “Always a Bridesmaid.” The powerful country-style track highlights her strong vocals, cloaked in a believable Southern drawl, as she embodies the mixture of contempt and yearning the character feels.

Mr. Ong shines in the more lowkey yet heartfelt song “Shouldn’t I be Less in Love with You,” a man’s ode to three decades of marriage with his wife. It’s a beautiful piece that gives longtime couples something to connect with, a rare moment of calm on the chaotic highway of love.

The lighthearted ensemble pieces give all four actors the opportunity to interact, with “Single Man Drought” lamenting the poor quality of first dates and “Marriage Tango” echoing the frightening realities of the impending lifelong ball and chain.

Younger millennials and older Gen Zs in the crowd related most to “Hey There, Single Guy/Gal,” sung by Magdangal and Kane as two frustrated parents bemoaning their son and his girlfriend’s decision to split and reenter the single life. But perhaps the most endearing, especially to introverts in the crowd, is “A Stud and A Babe,” performed by Padilla and Ong as a couple on a first date discovering that their insecurities are a bedrock for them to connect with each other.

A poignant note to end on is the vignette of an elderly couple who meet at a wake and find a comfortable sort of love. Magdangal and Kane’s rendition of “I Can Live With That” is melancholy and cute, a rare picture of dating at the sunset of one’s lifetime.

While I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change first premiered off-Broadway 28 years ago, newer versions like Rep’s allow the revue to morph into something newer generations can enjoy. Perceptive youths may sense that the gay couple and the online dating elements were merely insertions to material that is outdated by today’s standards, with conceptions of love that are not new at all, but the core of the play remains true. Those willing to look past the cringe-inducing sweetness and painful relatabilities will find that it is hilarious and tender, at times ridiculous but also deeply earnest, ultimately a cute and pleasant theater experience.

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