Love was in the air--and on stage--last weekend during The Playhouse Theatre's production of I Love You Because.
A "modern day musical love story" with a book and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham and music by Joshua Salzman, I Love You Because is a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The Playhouse Theatre's associate artistic director Courtneay Sanders directs the Oklahoma premiere of the play.
Chris Crawford, TPT's artistic director, is Austin Bennet, a geeky but endearing greeting card writer who catches his girlfriend, the assumed love of his life, in the arms of another man ("Another Saturday Night in New York").
Devastated, he drowns his sorrows in a bottle of vodka and attempts to devise a plan to win his ex-lover back. Instead, his brother Jeff (Alexander Walter), a womanizer who easily and often mixes his metaphors, encourages him to get back into the New York City dating scene ("Oh, What a Difference").
Jeff logs onto J-Date, a Jewish dating Web site and meets Diana Bingley (Jessica Branston). He arranges for a double date with Austin, Diana and Diana's friend. Her friend, Marcy Fitzwilliams (Denise Rosa) is having an emotional crisis of her own.
Her boyfriend of two years recently dumped her, and Marcy is distraught. She's ready to meet the man of her dreams, but Diana, who does everything by the numbers, calculates her rebound time and tells her she's got six months in which to meet Mr. Wrong--after which she will meet Mr. Right ("The Actuary Song").
Austin and Marcy meet--and everything goes wrong. Austin spends the whole date talking about his ex ("...But I don't Wanna Talk About Her"). Meanwhile, Diana and Jeff hit it off, but on their second date, Jeff throws his back out trying to seduce Diana.
Marcy and Austin meet again in the hospital waiting room and again their personalities clash ("Coffee"). The two couldn't be more different--Marcy is a free spirit who leaves much of life up to chance and fate and Austin is, well, the opposite--but there is some attraction.
However, as they argue over who is most impossible, Austin realizes Marcy has some intuition when it comes to women and enlists her help in winning back his ex, helping him write a love poem.
Although Austin writes the poem, he's not quite ready to send it, but Jeff accidentally sends it for him. Katherine, Austin's ex, replies in a post card, which Diana steals and gives to Marcy, so she may break the bad news to Austin gently. She attempts to do so, but her efforts backfire and, after having a huge fight, end up sleeping together ("Maybe We Just Made Love").
Although Marcy and Austin realize they have feelings for each other, Diana and Jeff convince each of them they're not yet ready for a relationship. When Austin professes his love to Marcy, her reaction is not what he hoped for ("Just Not Now").
Unfortunately, Diana and Jeff have problems of their own. Diana wants their relationship to be exclusive, but Jeff is afraid of commitment and rattles off a list of common reasons for relationship failure ("That's What's Gonna Happen").
Austin and Marcy go back and forth--one wanting the other, but never both wanting each other at the same time.
Meanwhile, maybe just to add to the chaos, Katherine comes back into Austin's life.
In the end, no one necessarily gets out of the experience what he or she is looking for, but everyone seems to get what he or she needs. And, of course, like any good love story, even one set in New York, it ends happily.
Pete Brennan Jr. and Jennifer Thomas round out the cast, each playing multiple roles, all of whom act as sort of guides to the two couples as they find their way to love.
The cast, many of them new to the stage, is pretty fantastic. While Rosa is perhaps the weakest vocalist, she makes up for the missed notes with graceful acting, charm and charisma.
Crawford, who could have easily stolen the show with his powerhouse voice, excels in his role without outshining anyone. The entire ensemble plays well together, even if not every ensemble song is perfect.
Walter is easily likeable as Jeff and a talented singer to boot. He and Branston--and he and Crawford--share an easy, natural chemistry that never feels forced. Somehow, Austin and Jeff are easily believable as brothers--despite the racial discrepancies.
Brennan and Thomas do a good job of playing each of their roles differently and not getting lost in the background.
As is characteristic of TPT productions, the play is set against a simple yet beautiful and utilitarian set. A three-step platform sits in front of a row of windows and two doorways. In the background is a cityscape, in front of which a small orchestra plays.
As is also trademark of TPT productions, much of the play's success lies in its carefully crafted details. The way set pieces and props are used, the gestures, the timing of the jokes--even Jeff's colorful socks--everything is planned, making TPT productions on par with professional ones and resulting in sell-out crowds (nearly every show last weekend was sold out).
James Gregory provides musical direction, and Shawn Irish is the play's scenic designer.
I Love You Because continues this weekend, Thursday, Feb. 18 through Saturday, Feb. 20, at 8pm in the Liddy Doenges Theatre of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Second St. Tickets are $25 at tulsapac.com
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