Joe DiPietro, a writer born and bred in Teaneck, NJ — "an anomaly in my second-generation Italian–American family," he notes — was working in advertising by day and creating dialogue at night for a series of sketches on the single life that were being done downstairs at the West Bank Café on 42nd Street. These sketches would, through a long chain of happenstance, lead to the creation of an Off-Broadway show that is now playing its 11th extraordinary, unbroken year at the Westside Theatre Upstairs, one block north on 43rd Street.
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (which takes its name from a song that was dropped from it at the last moment) played its 4,609th performance on July 31. And there is no end in sight.
The book and lyrics are by DiPietro and the music is by Jimmy Roberts, a cantor's grandson born and bred in Great Neck, Long Island. The two were brought together in the 1990s after Roberts had been shown a videotape of DiPietro's West Bank skits. "At that time," says Roberts, "I was so disappointed at the musical–revue form. Five people sitting on stools. I said to Joe, 'Let's not do it together,' meaning this stuff of yours doesn't need music. What'd I know?"
Someone who knew better was a producer, the late James Hammerstein. Roberts was persuaded to try, anyway. "We had a series of readings," says DiPietro. "For the final reading we booked a theatre very late. It turned out to be the night of the Obie Awards, and nobody came to our reading — except Jamie Hammerstein. A visionary, and our savior. He took this little show and us three guys" — Roberts, DiPietro and director Joel Bishoff — "and turned it into something." How to explain the amazing 11-year run? Roberts puts a hand over his mouth, then lowers it to tell what Hammerstein once told him: "People feel better when they leave this show than when they came in."
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change is still about the single life, but also the double life, the dating life, the sex-mad "stud and babe" life, the engagement life, the married life, the parental life, all sorts of life — together or alone.
In all the 11 years of I Love You there's been no great turnover of actors. Sometimes they go away and then return as understudies. "It's a good gig," says the composer.
If the show boils down to any one thing, it is, says Jimmy Roberts, "about the difficulty of connecting with someone." To which Joe DiPietro appends: "Yet that underneath the difficulties, it's worth coming back to try again."
Not just once, but 4,609 times, and counting.