Last Friday I attended “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” at the National Library Building.
I’ve long been a fan of the show, having purchased the soundtrack ages ago. Ravi and I saw a production at Harvard together. For those unfamiliar with it, “ILY,YP, NC” began as an off-Broadway production in 1996, lasting over 5,000 performances until it closed in 2008. The show is comprised of a series of vignettes on dating and mating from the opening number (which has the actors running around getting ready for a first date) to the penultimate number (two elderly people opening up to love, after the deaths of their spouses).
It’s often hilarious. In one of my favorite numbers, an obnoxious guy is going on about his work. He says “I could talk to you all night.” His date, breaking the fourth wall to share her thoughts, turns to the audience and sings “Please God, don’t let him!” (Single Man Drought) In another, a many times bridesmaid laments that her friends “can’t assess a man or a dress” detailing the many ugly dresses (and bad husbands) her friends have picked out. (Bridesmaid’s Lament) A dad laments that new fatherhood has him babbling babytalk and “Can I stop this? God I wish it. Because I sound just like a dipshit!” (The Baby Song)
However, it can also be sad and sweet. There’s a wistful song called “I will be loved tonight” in the first act that always reminds me of that happy cloud you floated around in when things were new and sweet. In the second act, a husband watches his wife of many years and wonders that “Shouldn’t I be less in love with you?” when he isn’t…and it never fails to make me a bit misty-eyed.
I walked in with no expectations beyond interest in seeing how the Singaporean production would compare with my previous experience of seeing the show, and my familiarity with the soundtrack.
This is a relatively small production–there are only four onstage actors; two men and two women. With a large scale production like Les Mis or Phantom, if you don’t care for the casting of a particular person (with a few exceptions) it doesn’t necessarily affect your overall experience. With a small cast like ILY, YP, NC–it absolutely can. The local cast is fantastic-all of the actors are versatile with good voices and stage presence. I particularly enjoyed Richard Meek’s turns as the dad (The Baby Song) and as one of the guys in “Single Man Drought.” Leanne Ansell’s take on “Bridesmaid’s Lament,” turning it from a country song into an Australian flavored number was also really memorable. Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie stole the scene during “Hey there Single Guy/Gal” as the mom. Finally, RJ Rosales made me laugh out loud with his portrayal of a guy trying not to get sucked into the dramatic/romantic movie his date picked in “Tear Jerk.”
The Singaporean production’s staging is far superior to that of the Harvard production we saw. There’s moving scenery, high tech touches (the floor of the stage often helps contribute to the mood with lighting or effects), and manages to complement, rather than distract from the on-scene action (primarily because the set designers’ red and white color palate and other non-distracting imagery).
Sound was the one area where (during the show I caught) there was room for improvement. In the first act, I felt like the cast was occasionally drowned out by the band (more often the men than the women–in the first two-three numbers, although I know the lyrics, I found them hard to distinguish because the background music was quite loud). I felt like this was better in the second act, but I would have appreciated the cast’s mikes being turned up a few notches.
America’s biggest export is culture. This was made clear to me in France when I was walking the streets of the medieval part of Aix-En-Provence and stumbled across a GAP and a Starbucks within 5 minutes in 1999, and as I watched episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and My So-Called Life dubbed in French on tv with my host mom. Eating lunch at a McDonald’s that didn’t serve beef in Bombay was a bit surreal. The sheer amount of American music, food, movies, tv and so forth in Singapore create a comfy cocoon from which you don’t actually need to leave…although you’re thousands of miles from home (and you really should leave the cocoon, at least a bit, and regularly). So it’s unsurprising that shows like “ILY, YP, NC” have gone global.
I found it interesting that here in Singapore the show was rated for 16 and over only. Perhaps because there is so very little (especially non-Disney) Broadway/Off-Broadway musical theater out there for kids, I’m fairly open-minded about what I will/won’t show my kids. While I wouldn’t take my 2.5 year old or my 5 year old, I wouldn’t think twice about taking a 5th grader or 6th grader (10-12 year old). But seeing the “16 and over only” sign got me thinking about how American (which the show is) and Singaporean (where I was seeing it) dating and sexual mores are pretty different.
As the show played out, I kept an eye on my fellow theatergoers and wondered how they related to the show. It’s an incredibly American show, with all kinds of assumptions made about the audience. The two moments that fell flat for me did so because it’s impossible to translate that American-ness into Singaporean Culture.
- There’s a number called “Waiting” which opens with a wife exasperatedly asking her husband how much time is left in a football game. The husband says “32 seconds.” The wife responds “32 REAL LIFE seconds or 32 FOOTBALL seconds?” Obviously American football doesn’t get a lot of play in Singapore (or anywhere that isn’t the US), and the local production featured a husband watching a soccer match (what everyone who isn’t American calls football). Now, I’m not the most sporty person out there, so I asked Ravi if Soccer has the kind of torturous slow clock that American Football has (where 32 football seconds can take 5-10 minutes of real life time to play out). He confirmed that it doesn’t. So the bit doesn’t entirely work. I don’t know how I’d modify it, but it’s just a bit awkward.
- There’s some Jewish humor in the penultimate number. The two retirees are supposed to be Jewish and there’s an exchange about where the guy got his bread at one Deli versus another. They used one deli and then substituted Cold Storage for the second locale. Again, I understand that there’s a lot of necessary context that just doesn’t exist in Singapore–we don’t have a Jewish deli (much to my lamentation), nor is there a large Jewish population (I think I’ve read 300+/-, and 2 synagogues). While there’s plenty of American imported tv, it’s impossible to have the same level of awareness of Jewish cultural references as you pick up living in the US (in my case, I count a number of Jewish friends among my nearest and dearest, and have lived in or near large Jewish populations my entire adult life–and every time I go home, I make pilgrimages to favorite Jewish delis; the food is unbelievable). That the scene takes place in a “funeral home” with a giant cross on the wall behind the characters also just makes the exchange awkward.
Back home, after seeing “ILY, YP, NC” my first thought after seeing the show was how “heteronormative” the show was. In the wake of legalized gay marriage in my home state of Massachusetts, a show that focused exclusively on straight dating and mating seemed a little…out of date/out of touch. No matter how universal some of the concepts are…it reflected American cultural norms far more accurately in 1996 than it did in 2008 (when the show closed in NYC). In 2011 Singapore, it seemed positively progressive with the assumptions that you’d have pre-marital sex and the scene about the woman who makes her first dating video after a divorce (especially considering that there was a recent court case where it was considered acceptable, even reasonable for the judge trying to decide whether to give a woman one lump divorce sum or monthly alimony to ask how attractive she was and what her remarriage prospects were–read more here).
So….do Singaporeans “get” it? Their take-away from the show is probably very different from mine. They had a great time, they related…that’s what’s important…not that they “get” what 32 football seconds “really” means.
To an extent, this is what being an expat is all about. Not insisting that YOUR culture is the ultimate, or that people in your new country be explained to about “football seconds”, but accepting that we all come to each day of our life with very different baggage…and finding the common ground. Because really…all parents (and I say this as one) do kind of sound like dipshits when we talk to our babies. And yes, we all skew the truth a bit on early dates, putting our best feet forward. And we are all hoping for that one, true love.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is playing at the National Library Complex through June 19. Go here for tickets (or any Sistic counter in a mall).