"It's still sort of surreal," Ryan Cunningham said. "I don't think it's hit me yet and I don't know when it will. The show's only been seen before in readings. The first day of rehearsal, I was happy just to be able to work, and do what we do as writers."
The four-person principal cast (Farah Alvin, David A. Austin, Colin Hanlon, and Tony-nominated Avenue Q alumnus Stephanie D'Abruzzo) performed a selection of songs in front of a press preview audience last week at their downtown rehearsal studio on Lafayette Street.
I Love You Because has been described as "a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice." The musical's poster evokes the film Sleepless in Seattle, with a man and woman meeting over a New York City skyline, with their hands touching on the Empire State Building.
The plot, according to press notes, follows Austin Bennet, a young greeting card writer whose life is turned upside down when he finds his girlfriend in bed with another man. He is sent back out into the treacherous New York dating scene where he meets Marcy, whose spontaneity is matched only by her ability to drive Austin insane.
"We've been trying to write a She Loves Me for our generation," Cunningham said. "There's nothing self-referential in the musical. We wanted to be honest to our life experiences. It should be Harry Met Sally with songs. Thats how we approached it." In "The Actuary Song," D'Abruzzo was immediately given an opportunity to show off her comedic and musical talent. Her character Diana, an actuary, explained to Marcy (Farah Alvin) that the best way to find the perfect man is find one who is absolutely wrong, while she simultaneously performed endless computations on a calculator.
Songs that followed included "That's What's Gonna Happen," in which Jeff (David A. Austin) described to Diana how turning their sexual trysts into a serious relationship would ruin everything, as well as the title song, which closes the show.
"Being in the show feels fabulous," D'Abruzzo told us. "I get to dance. I can brush the hair out of my face if I want to. And, I can use props. Props are my now my friends and not my enemies. With a puppet, it's very difficult to handle props."
But does she miss the companionship of Kate Monster or Lucy the Slut on her arm?
"No, not for a second," she quickly answered. "And I'm not saying that to disparage puppets. It's just not who I am. This is not a show cut out to have puppets. I'm not one of those people who shy away from being onstage herself. A lot of people thought we used the puppets at crutches. That"s not true. I'm having a blast."
Meanwhile, Cunningham and Salzman are now writing Queen Esther, a family musical based on the Jewish holiday of Purim to be produced by the Kaufman Center at Merkin Concert Hall. "In the same way that this is Pride and Prejudice, it's not going to be the literal story of Queen Esther," Cunningham said. "It'll be set in biblical time, but it'll also have contemporary sensibilities and personalities."