Penobscot Theatre says ‘I Love You’ to its audience

Posted May 28, 2012, at 11:33 a.m.

The way Nathan Halvorson sees it, Penobscot Theatre’s upcoming production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is a funny, happy, touching love letter to the glory of love, in all its myriad forms — a big ol’ smooch for the Bangor area and for PTC’s many theatergoers.

It’s also a show that caps off a regular season that has seen a lot of transition for the 38-year-old theater — from Halvorson’s tenure as interim artistic director, to the January arrival of new artistic director Bari Newport.

“It’s a big valentine to what love is,” said Halvorson, who returns to the Bangor Opera House to direct this last show of the regular season, ahead of PTC’s Northern Writes New Play Festival in late June. “It’s a really nice show for this time of year. [The actors] play 65 different characters over the course of the show, and it spans the gamut from young love to old married couples. It’s very sweet.”

The show itself is not what originally was on the season schedule when it was announced in the spring of 2011. The May/June show was initially planned to be the musical adaptation of the so-bad-it’s-good 1980 Olivia Newton-John movie “Xanadu.” Budget constraints forced PTC to rethink that plan, as “Xanadu” called for roller skating actors, fabulous costumes, sets and lighting, and lots of special effects — not a cheap commodity.

“We knew we had to take a different tack for this show,” said Halvorson. “This is much more intimate, and we already have a cast that’s ready to do it. It just made sense to do this instead.”

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” features area musical theater favorites Brianne Beck, Dominick Varney, Ben Layman and Christie Robinson, playing roles they have already stepped into, when all four starred in Winterport Open Stage’s spring 2011 production of the show. Varney was the director in that instance, but with PTC’s version, he’s relishing the chance to dive into his role.

“It’s very freeing to just focus on the characters,” said Varney, last seen here in PTC’s production of “Boeing Boeing.” “Nathan and I have different ideas about things, and it’s very rewarding to see what he thinks about various aspects of the show. I’m loving revisiting it in a new and exciting way.”

“I Love You” presents a series of vignettes depicting an array of couples, from the earliest days of a relationship, to couples that have been married for decades. It’s a workout for the four actors that play all those roles — but it also infuses the show with a vibrant, freewheeling energy. Halvorson wasn’t overly familiar with “I Love You” until it was decided upon as the May/June show.

“I was surprised I didn’t know it, since I have over 300 musical soundtracks, and this is a really popular show,” he said. “But now that I’ve been immersed in it, I’ve really grown to love it. It’s like a Valentine’s Day episode of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It’s warm and very funny.”

The show, which premiered Off-Broadway in 1996 and was written by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts, has been translated into 14 different languages — from Mandarin to Hebrew — and has been performed in more than 25 countries, which is a testament to its universal themes.

“It’s a funny and honest look at relationships,” said Varney. “The funny comes out of the reality of the characters. It feels very real.”

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” opens at 8 p.m. Friday, June 1, at the Bangor Opera House. There are two preview performances, set for 7 p.m. May 30 and 31. Additional shows are set for 5 p.m. June 2, and 3 p.m. June 3, followed by shows June 6-10 and June 13-17. For information and to buy tickets (starting at $15), call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.

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