Writer and lyricist Joe DiPietro and composer Jimmy Roberts, the creators of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, know love is the universal language.
On July 25, the Off-Broadway revue about the mixed blessings of dating and marriage will celebrate its 5,000th performance at the Westside Theatre. Two days later, sadly, just five days shy of its 12th anniversary Off-Broadway, it will close. But when it does, it will enter the theatrical history books as the second-longest-running Off-Broadway musical (after The Fantasticks).
In 1989 DiPietro, then in his late 20s, began writing sketches about how he and friends dated in their 20s. In 1990, he says, "they were presented in a basement theatre over a weekend. As fate would have it, a producer saw it. He said, 'This is a musical revue.' To me, a musical revue was something like Ain't Misbehavin'. I was still unsure when a friend introduced me to Jimmy. He saw a video of the sketches and said, 'Don't change it. It's funny. You don't need music.'"
Impressed with his honesty, DiPietro said, "I want you." Roberts, in his late 30s, was unsure. "I was tired of revues with five actors on stools wearing cutesy sweaters." Before long, he found the material speaking to him. "It was funny and sharp. It rang true-to-life. With music, however, I worried it would soften it. It turned out just the opposite." Roberts had written other things (including A...My Name Is Still Alice) and took DiPietro under his wing. "Any collaboration is a marriage," says DiPietro, "and you start out baby-feeding." According to DiPietro, there was never a "eureka moment"; in fact, there were differences. His approach was more non-traditional than Roberts'. Eventually, they merged via compromise. The show evolved, says Roberts, "with the message that, dating or married, it's worth connecting."
When they tested the waters, they got an earful. I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change was too long a title. It wouldn't fit a marquee. It wasn't marketable.
"We didn't listen," says DiPietro, and the title went on to become a catchphrase everywhere, from religion to politics. "I hoped for a modest run. Never did I imagine we'd [have] thousands of productions in the U.S. and worldwide.
"The problem with a hit is you have to keep working to keep it fresh." That falls to director Joel Bishoff, who conducts brush-up rehearsals often. He directed the revue on the West End and in Beijing and was instrumental in bringing the Chinese company here in 2007.
Lyricist and composer agree their show strikes a chord with male and female, young and old. "It's about love and marriage," says DiPietro. Adds Roberts, "Every culture has relationship rituals, so our show is easy to identify with in any language."