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A 12-Year Run

I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE composer, Jimmy Roberts, gave a moving speech on the closing night of the long-running and record-breaking Off-Broadway production of his show. After 5,001 performances over 12 years in New York City, I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE will continue its success in theatres around the world. Read below for Roberts' reflection as the curtain fell for the final time on this wonderful production.

Composer Jimmy Roberts's Off-Broadway Closing Night Speech
The Westside Theatre, New York, NY
July 27, 2008

I'm Jimmy Roberts, the composer of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change—and how lucky we are, we chosen 300 or so, to be here, all of us, audience and actors—to be gathered in this former church, this house of worship—to experience this milestone together, as one body.

It was always an unlikely show, an unlikely addition to the hip New York musical theater scene: the overly-long title, its seeming reliance on truisms about dating and marriage, its focus on boring heterosexuals.  But some saw more in it: a universality that quickly establishes a sweet relationship between the audience and the material—wherein they are tickled at times, touched at other times—and always recognize themselves, to their own laughter and delight.

One of those far-seeing oracles was James Vagias, then the artistic director of the American Stage Company in Teaneck, NJ, who gave us our first production in 1995. Then, out of nowhere, the prestigious and edgy Long Wharf Theatre, in New Haven, CT, expressed some interest. I once quipped, and it may not be far from the truth, that a Long Wharf board member traveled down to Jersey to see the show and reported back that it was “extremely entertaining”—and then I somehow imagined the entire Long Wharf board convening and deciding “Well, let's do it anyway!”

It was really a boon when we snagged the lovely Westside Theatre, I mean the much sought-after upstairs Westside Theatre, to finally make our New York debut in 1996. But, back to the “unlikely” theme, the slot they gave us was for the shank of the summer; hot, muggy August, when everyone, including the press, is away—traditionally the worst time to bring in a new show. In fact, I was told that the theater management said, “We'll let 'em run through the Jewish Holidays, then that'll be it!” (That's how business is negotiated in New York City!)

Well, that was the Rosh Hashanah of 5756—now it is 5768, so I guess we definitely ran through the Jewish Holidays. Many of them.

12 Years; 5,001 performances; there are plenty of numbers to joyfully cite:

Over 55 marriage proposals, from audience members, on this very stage—because the public sensed that this was a show that was NOT entirely cynical about the possibility of people connecting with other people.

And then there's the number 11. In the scene, A Stud and a Babe, the “babe” in a desperate conversational gambit, offers up the unusual fact that her brother has 11 toes. Well, it turns out that a regional production of our show boasted a male understudy who…yes….actually had 11 toes—which he proudly displayed, upon request, to our director, Joel Bishoff!

But, when I go deeper, I know it's not at all about the numbers; it's not about the 12 years, or any other statistics—it's about the people. And in particular, the people who day in/day out accomplished those 5,001 performances. I include of course those backstage, as well as that tempestuous and talented musical couple on the balcony who squabble every night during our entr'acte and cadenza—but how about those four actors, who play—what is it?—60 different characters?

Which leads me to thoughts of our much-appreciated Joel Bishoff, who never stopped caring about the upkeep and quality control of our show. Even after moving to California, he made it a point to fly in whenever necessary to give each new cast member (almost without exception) the benefit of his inspiration and guidance. Joel reminded me recently of the particular requirements for an actor in ”I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.”  In addition to acting and singing, and acting WHILE singing—we always seek a real “mensch” —and I mean in all four roles, male and female. We search for someone deeply human, and sensitive—not to mention funny and attractive—four vulnerable, genuine performers whom the audience would want to spend two hours with, up close. That's certainly what we have now, with Anne Bobby, Christy Faber, Jonathan Rayson, and Frank Vlastnik—and that's what we've always had. Trust me, if any of you were sitting in with me at our auditions through the years—you'd have known as quickly and clearly as we did, just who the real deals were, and who we HAD to hire. Why did they stand out? Why did they have that extra sparkle? Because in addition to possessing manifold dramatic and musical skills, they were willing and eager to bare and share their truths with a roomful of strangers.

And for me (and I'll close with this thought), my special relationship was a professional one, with the guy whose witty and sometimes piercing observations about ordinary people are what nourish this enterprise. To the public, it's a 12-year run, but for me, that means it's been 18 years of knowing Joe DiPietro.

Tom Jones, bookwriter and lyricist for THE FANTASTICS (the only Off-Broadway musical that has us beat), in his book, Making Musicals, talks about finding the right collaborator. He refines it down to this: “Find someone whose taste in shows is similar to yours. Not taste in art, not taste in clothes, not in lifestyle. But in actual theater experiences. If you consistently find that you are excited, or bored, by the same shows, it is a good sign.”

That description fits Joe and me to a “T.” We do tend to appreciate the same shows—however our many contrasts and differences also burnish our collaboration. He's stronger in areas where I'm weaker, and, I like to think, vice-versa. In addition, Joe tends to be firm and decisive—and I…um…um… am not!

We're all extremely proud of Joe for what he has already accomplished beyond I Love You… and for the great places we know his drive and talent will take him.

But not without the help of those risk-takers, those dreamers, those…producers, who were kind enough to offer an unsurpassable combination: money and artistic freedom! I'm talking of the wise and beloved James Hammerstein—and then the equally essential Jon Pollard, Bernie Kukoff and Dena Hammerstein—all of whom have continued to risk and dream in many subsequent distinguished productions.

It is sad to close—to end—it can't be denied. Especially in theater, because what the actors do is so evanescent. Whether it's one week, or twelve years, it completely disappears every night.

And now we, too, disappear from New York —but there's no time for despair! Yesterday I heard from a small theater in Pacific Palisades, CA where I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE was the best-attended and most financially-lucrative production in their history; we just got word that it opens in April 2009 in Sydney, Australia; a friend recently sent a postcard advertising our show in Whitefish, Montana, and on the back he wrote: “I just can't escape you, can I?”

No—you will not escape us that easily. We just keep comin' back. Our studs and babes and Rose Ritzes and Arthurs and Muriels will always be there, ready to share their sorrows and joys with anyone who will listen.

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