West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 5 | July 4 - 10, 2007

From left, Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts, creators of the longest running Off-Broadway musical (barring “The Fantasticks”), “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”

Eleven years running, just perfect, why change?

By Jerry Tallmer

For 11 years now, Pat, a busy, busy woman, and Stan, a busy, busy man, have been rushing through their first date. Not fast enough for Pat, however, who each and every time greets Stan with: “What do you say we say goodnight and go right to the second date? You know what, Stan? What do you say we just skip the first, second, and third dates and go right to the sex.”

“Works for me,” says Stan. “Or we could go right to where you ask me if this dress makes you look fat, and I don’t answer quickly enough, and you don’t speak to me for three days.”

Pretty soon they’re having their first fight, their first breakup, their first accidental reencounter while dating someone else, their first sad pro forma “We must get together sometime … ”

And they’ve been doing this, Pat and Stan, for 11 years! Eleven years exactly, come August 1. This past May 20 the show — “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” a sort of slalom course on the dating game — reached its 4,500th more or less unchanged performance at the 250-seat Westside Theatre (upstairs), the longest unbroken run in Off-Broadway musical history, barring, of course, “The Fantasticks.”

How to account for it?

Jimmy Roberts, who wrote its music, has — or relays — the simplest answer. “Jamie Hammerstein said to me: ‘People feel better when they leave the show than when they came in.’”

James Hammerstein (1931-1999) was the producer who discovered the revue, had faith in it, gave them the gumption to go on. “Our visionary,” says Joe DiPietro, who wrote the book and lyrics.

Though “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is pointed mostly toward a demographic categorized by press agent Jim Randolph as “that shrinking special-interest group, the fast declining hopeful heterosexual,” its creators are not in fact the marrying kind.

They were brought together professionally in 1990 or ’91 by a mutual acquaintance who, at the West Bank Café on 42nd Street — one block due south of the Westside Theatre — had seen some sketches DiPietro had written about the single life.

The predominant musical-revue format of that era — “five people sitting on stools” — did not greatly appeal to composer Roberts, “I said: ‘Let’s not do it together,’ meaning this stuff doesn’t need music. What’d I know?”

They teamed up anyhow — they and director Joel Bischoff — and had a series of readings. The last reading turned out to be on the night the Obie Awards were given out, so no one came. Except one person: James Hammerstein. Successful tryouts in New Jersey and at New Haven’s Long Wharf opened a path to Off-Broadway.

“And I was there from the first, Jeez,” says publicist Randolph. He notes that over the long haul the turnover in actors has been very modest — maybe 40 performers altogether in the 11 years, with those who leave often coming back later as under-studies. “It’s a good gig.”

(The four performers of this moment are Courtney Balan, Anne Bobby, Bryan McElroy, Joe Ricci. That’s not counting the Shanghai actors who were here, doing the show in Mandarin, in rotation with the Americansters, in May and early June.)

Joe DiPietro, a banker’s son, was born (1961) and brought up in Teaneck, New Jersey, “an anomaly” — that is, a writer — “in my family.” His folks did take him in to see Broadway shows, which is where, he says, “I got the bug.” Graduating from Rutgers with a degree in English, he went to work in advertising, and stayed in that pursuit for 10 years, writing for himself at night. “I wrote a long time, and nobody was interested.”

Jimmy Roberts, a businessman’s son, was born (1952) in New York City and brought up in Great Neck, Long Island. His maternal grandfather was a cantor and rabbi whose wife — Jimmy’s grandmother — played the organ and piano. “I once met Leonard Bernstein,” says this other music man, “and he immediately asked: ‘What does Roberts stand for?’ When I told him ‘Rabinowitz,’ he said: ‘That was Jerry Robbins’s name, too, and he was ashamed of it.’ ” Jimmy Roberts is not ashamed of his name or his orientation.

 One scene in particular in “I Love You,” etc., springs from Roberts’s own Great Neck family. “When my sister announced her engagement on a Christmas morning, my mother whipped out a wrapped engagement present” (that she’d long had in readiness). In the show, the mama, apprised that the engagement is off, slams the wrapped present across the room. That didn’t happen chez Roberts, “but a long time later my sister and the guy broke up.”

Gentlemen, if you had to put your finger on one thing this show is saying…

Jimmy Roberts: “The need and difficulty of connecting with someone. The human comedy. Everyone goes through this in one form or another.”

 Joe DiPietro: “Underneath the difficulties, it’s worth coming back to try again.”

 Forty-five hundred times, and counting. Maybe one of these days they’ll get it right.

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE. Music by Jimmy Roberts, book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro. Directed by Joel Bishoff. At the Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd Street, (212) 315-2244 or (212) 239-6200.

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