Addison — Ryan Cunningham wanted to write a show for college students because the Broadway material was neither targeting their demographic, nor were the shows affordable for students. The genesis of the idea for the book musical I Love You Because traces back to his college days at the University of Notre Dame. He co-wrote a musical with composer/lyricist Tommy Curtain, Chance at Love, about mismatched relationships. They took that show on road trips initially to cast members’ hometowns and anyplace else they could find a performance opportunity.
Spring forward to grad school at NYU, Cunningham and Joshua Salzman were partnered on a writing assignment. I Love You Because, also a musical about mismatched relationships, evolved out of that college assignment partnership and eventually became their graduate thesis. Orchestrations are by Larry Hochman. While it is true that the original intent was to use Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a writing matrix of sorts, Cunningham and Salzman admit that by the time they finished the musical, it bore little if any resemblance to Austen’s work.
Our Productions Theatre Co. originated the regional premiere of this production at the MCL Grand Theater in Lewisville, and it is now onstage at the Studio Theatre at Addison Theatre Centre. Young, energetic, and contemporary, I Love You Because is a property well-suited for director Stephanie Riggs and musical director Mark Mullino, fitting in with their “little shows, big heart” motto. This piece is scored for five instruments but it is effective with piano and gives Mullino the advantage of being able to more easily sync and flow with the singers. The movement is choreographed by Kyle Christopher West.
It is present day Saturday night in New York City. Austin (Rashaun Sibley), an uptight young conservative greeting card writer, walks in on his girlfriend with another guy. Dejected, he talks with his brother and roommate Jeff (Kyle Montgomery). They meet at O’Dennehey’s bar, which is tended by NY man (Joey Donolan) and NY Woman (Kathryn Taylor Rose). Austin still wants his girlfriend back. Jeff is not the best person to give advice but that doesn’t stop him. Elsewhere, roommates Diana (Monique Abry) and Marcy (Juliette Talley) are having a similar conversation. Diana, an actuary, is advising Marcy, a flight photographer, on how to get over a split from her unworthy boyfriend. They too go to O’Dennehey’s bar where their paths cross with Austin and Jeff. Jeff and Diana click and exit, leaving Austin and Marcy in the bar to fend for themselves. From here the story becomes what can happen when two quirky damaged people enter into a relationship.
This is an ensemble piece structured around three couples, two of which are romantically linked. The New York Man and Woman are something of a variation on a Greek chorus, but with two. They are the two-dimensional characters filling in and commenting on the story, which helps make the other characters more three-dimensional. Donolan and Rose’s antics generate a lot of chuckles. They are interesting to watch, especially Donolan’s physical comedy. This could easily become a distraction, but it does not. Donolan and Rose reinforce the story, complementing the other characters.
Together, Montgomery and Abry are snappy and have some of the funniest interactions. Their synergy is grounded in Montgomery’s innate sense of timing. They are pretty evenly balanced vocally. Abry sells “The Actuary Song,” one of the more memorable songs in the score.
Sibley and Talley are not as evenly balanced, but they are the awkward couple so that fits, sort of. Sibley’s strength is with the dramatic and he plays Austin as a sympathetic character. He struggles with intonation however, which becomes more glaring during harmony. Talley is a confident singer and is particularly lovely with “Even Though.” But songs in musical theater are not just about singing, and Talley works well within the ensemble to paint some nice vignettes.
Scott Kirkham has built a cool door that when positioned horizontally, becomes a bar. That one set piece anchors the location changes which move from apartments to a bar to a coffee shop to a restaurant.
This is a fun production, one that has millennials in mind but not to the exclusion of everyone else. It moves, hugs and tickles.