I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (US/UK) is celebrating its 25th anniversary! Yes, the hilarious, crowd-pleasing musical revue opened off-Broadway 25 years ago this month, on August 1, 1996. We sat down with creators Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts to discuss the show’s creation, history and enduring success.
Congratulations on the 25th anniversary of the show’s off-Broadway premiere! Can you believe this show was created over a quarter century ago?
Jimmy Roberts: Twenty-five years? No, of course we can’t believe it!
Joe DiPietro: That seems ridiculous. Clearly, I was about 12 when we wrote it.
Jimmy: My mental image is two guys in their thirties, sitting by my living room piano, making ourselves laugh at what we came up with, and then, surprising ourselves at the more serious and moving material. The show seemed to be asking us for variety, so that’s what we gave it.
For those few people out there who may not know I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, can you briefly describe the show?
Jimmy: It’s a musical and comedy experience that in two hours covers the arc of relationships from the first date, through marriage, its hopes and fears, right up to losing a mate and being single all over again.
Joe: Most people are put on this earth with a deep-rooted need to pair off with someone. However, finding that someone and then making a relationship work often seem near impossible. I like to call this phenomenon “God’s Best Joke.” And that’s what the show is about: God’s Best Joke.
How did I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change first come to be? What was the seed of inspiration?
Jimmy: The inspiration came from Joe, who observed the antics of his single friends and created hilarious, satirical sketches which became a sketch revue called Love Lemmings.
Joe: The sketches were being produced in basement theatres around NYC (which is about as glamorous as it sounds) when a producer saw the sketches and said, “This should be a musical revue; put music in this.” The only musical revue I had ever seen was Ain’t Misbehavin’, so I had no idea what she was talking about. Fortunately, she introduced me to a young composer named Jimmy Roberts, who took one look at the sketches and said, “These are really good. They don’t need music.” Immediately, I knew he was the person I wanted to write the show with, so I bugged him until he said yes.
Jimmy: I really respected Joe’s comic voice. It turned out that his comic gift extended to song lyrics as well. That – combined with my knack for writing in many musical styles – led to some pretty funny, and sometimes moving, songs. And suddenly the subject wasn’t just about young single people dating, but about marriage, even long marriages. The use of music actually deepened the show. One of the songs was called, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” Ultimately that song was dropped, but the title struck us as a pithy summary of the whole deal. And poof! Love Lemmings became I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.
How did the two of you work creatively?
Joe: Generally, I’d write a sketch and then we’d sit and talk about how music could best serve the moments. I’d then craft a lyric and share it with Jimmy, who was often noncommittal about it. A few days later, Jimmy would call and ask me to come back to his apartment where he’d play a great new song for me.
Jimmy: Mostly it was Joe who came up with some lyrics, and that was our jumping off point. “I’m Married and I’m Gonna Have Sex,” about a married couple feeling randy, but burdened by responsibilities, like getting their whiny kids to bed, struck me as a sexy tango! It became “Marriage Tango.” A rapid list of all the things you check off the list before your first date, though Joe was inspired by a Billy Joel song, struck me as a classical “cantata” – but I gave it an underlying rock beat! I have to say what was most exciting was when Joe came in with a fully realized ballad lyric, just beautifully moving. It was a joy for me to add music to “I Will Be Loved Tonight” or “Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You?”
Your first production was in Teaneck, NJ, at the American Stage Company Theater at Fairleigh Dickinson University. What do you remember about that first production?
Joe: Absolute terror. At least on my part. It was my first produced anything and the audience had no idea what they were in for. If memory serves, our first preview began with only a handful of laughs from the audience, but then about halfway through the first act, a woman actually yelled out, “This is my life!” and the entire audience laughed and loosened up and we were on our way.
Jimmy: I’ll just say simply, whether it was in Teaneck or even at an earlier tryout in Englewood, NJ, the main thing was, the laughs were already there, both for the sketches and the songs. It was a good sign.
The show premiered off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre on August 1, 1996. How did that production differ from the show seen at Fairleigh Dickinson?
Jimmy: I must mention our director, Joel Bishoff, who already had vast experience and a warm history with Jamie Hammerstein, one of our producers. In this phase, whether in Teaneck, or later, in New Haven at the Long Wharf Theatre, Joel was able to help us nip and tuck, cut lines, sometimes cut whole songs, to keep the show moving at the quick pace that comedy demands.
Joe: Jamie really taught us the discipline needed to create a show – meaning you must listen to your audience and then rewrite and rewrite and rewrite some more. So jokes and songs went in, jokes and songs went out. One of my favorite sketches, The Pirate Sketch, was a laugh riot out of town – it always killed – but when we put it on stage at the Westside Theater… crickets. No reaction, no laughter, nothing. We tried everything we could, but it just wasn’t working in the context of what the show had become. So we cut it. And then when our friends who had seen the show out of town came back to see it in New York, they’d inevitably ask, “What happened to that hilarious pirate ske
That off-Broadway run was a smash hit. The show is the second longest-running musical in off-Broadway history! What do you think made it such a big hit? What did audiences find in the show that kept them coming for years and years?
Jimmy: Of course, if there were a formula, everyone would use it to make a hit. It’s a little intangible. I’d say that I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is more than the sum of its parts. You see just four performers and a minimal set, yet you are recognizing yourself and your mate, and you’re either roaring with laughter or choking up with tears. There’s an underlying positive “message” in our show: It says relationships are crazy, but they’re worth it. It’s worth reaching out to someone. But the message is subtle, we express it through the fun of the scenes and songs.
Joe: The actors called it the “nudge” show because they would observe audience members nudging their companions and whispering, “That’s you!” or “That’s your aunt!” The show holds a mirror up to people’s lives, and people love laughing at themselves.
In addition to its smash off-Broadway run and other professional productions, the show has met with astonishing success in community and amateur theatres worldwide. What are the elements of this show that make it so appealing to local theatres?
Joe: It’s tuneful, funny and highly relatable – the definition of a crowd-pleaser. And it can be done with a cast of 4 or 6 or 10 or 20.
Jimmy: Someone once said of our show: “Just add water.” It’s all there. All you need is a piano and four funny people who can sing (The original score was for piano and violin—a very felicitous combination, it turned out!). The casting is adaptable; it can be expanded so more people can participate and it can be produced on large or tiny stages. It’s edgy without being offensive, and it has feeling without being corny. It’s relatable to all ages.
In 2018, you revised the show “for the 21st century.” What changes did you make, and what inspired those changes?
Jimmy: I’m so glad we updated the show. It has the same spirit and tone, but so much of our social customs and identities have evolved that our musical would have been left behind if we didn’t take notice. We altered the musical sound and instrumentation, ditched the violin, and gave the score an earthy, more rock-oriented feel. Our actors now portray gay men and women as well as straight ones. References to films and politics are more up to date.
Joe: You know what I think changed most during this time? Technology! When the show was first written, people used to meet potential partners – and this will shock young readers – in person. Yep, at bars or parties or on blind dates. Then much of dating transferred to the internet, and now much of it is on our phones. So Jimmy and I readjusted for that. Speaking of phones, I was shocked to learn that straight men send pictures of their junk to women. I’m a gay man and I assumed only gay dudes did that! So Jimmy and I concocted a song called “A Picture of His Penis” about this very subject…
Jimmy: With a very pretty melody, I might add!
Joe: And it invariably rocks the house with laughter. Those little computers in our hands have changed virtually everything about dating, and the show happily reflects that.
Do you have a favorite moment in the show? What is it and why?
Joe: To be honest, my favorite moments are any moments when the audience is uproariously laughing. So I have a bunch of favorite moments.
Jimmy: One of my favorite moments has always been a somewhat silly song, “Tear Jerk.” It’s about chick flicks and a guy on date who is emotionally resistant to them, until he falls apart, bawling his eyes out at the end of the movie. I like it because the entire story is told through music and lyrics. No narration, no spoken dialogue, just pure song. I guess you could say, like an opera does.
This show has been produced all over the world, in many languages, for so many different types of audiences. I’m sure you’ve seen many of those productions. Are there any that stand out in your memory?
Joe: Definitely the Barcelona production. Normally, the first image of the show is presented very sweetly – four appealing people getting ready for a date. But when the curtain came up on in Barcelona, there were four incredibly sexy Spaniards standing in the tightest underwear imaginable. Their production was wildly funny, but it placed the passion and sex of relationships front and center – I loved it.
Jimmy: That Spanish production was simple and sexy in staging and costumes. The French were just chic and sophisticated, and how beautiful those words sound in the French language! I saw an ad for the Finnish production, and everyone was in dark turtlenecks, serious, unsmiling. Ah, Scandinavia, I thought to myself! And in Hong Kong they made our show into a “major motion picture” with a cast of 80 and set in locations all around the island. Unbelievable. Words may have to be translated, but music is music. And what impressed me was how well they understood and interpreted my music. It’s a profound example of how connected we all are around this huge globe, something we too easily forget.
You wrote this show when you were 25 years younger than you are today. Do you have a different perspective on relationships, dating and long-term commitment now? Do different parts of the show resonate with you more now that we’re all a quarter-century older?
Jimmy: I’m getting the feeling that our little show will likely outlive us. That’s a humbling thought.
Joe: It’s not so much the insights, it’s the tone of the show that always resonates with me. There’s an undeniable carefree-ness to I Love You… that is much more reflective of a younger writer. And I think that’s a huge part of the show’s enduring appeal – the show never takes itself too seriously. As a result, it’s able to both skewer and celebrate relationships simultaneously.
Jimmy: Our director, Joel Bishoff, likes to say each person is either in a first act (dating) or second act (marriage, divorce, death) situation. And it’s true. Wherever you are in your life, and that includes the authors, one of the songs or scenes will probably speak to you.