Modern New York City is the backdrop for this spring’s light-hearted, character-driven musical romance, I Love You Because. It’s a city where hopeless romanticism and hardened cynicism exist side by side, out on the streets and within each of the four protagonists. I Love You Because delivers without pretense a funny, sincere story about finding the right words and the right time for love. Familiar situations and a simple set allow the six-person cast’s powerful voice and acting talents to carry the show.
The plot centers on Austin, a sweet but somewhat priggish greeting card writer and aspiring poet endearingly played by Murphy Austin ’16, and Marcy (Kyle Leigh Carney ‘16), an indecisive photographer who never gets her coffee the same way twice. The two strangers find themselves single after Marcy leaves her “artistic, free spirit, vegan, dirtbag” boyfriend and Austin discovers his longtime girlfriend, Catherine, is cheating on him. Austin’s bumbling brother Jeff (Henry Kietzman ‘14) convinces Austin to try dating other women to lure Catherine back. Meanwhile Marcy’s best friend Diana (Sophie Miller ‘16), an actuary, manipulates variables including “boyfriend number index” and “bitterness factor” to calculate Marcy’s precise rebound time. Through a clever duet (“The Actuary Song”) the two agree to set themselves up for true love by first finding the worst men possible.
The four arrange to meet for a double date: Jeff with Diana and Austin with Marcy. The first two hit it off, but Austin and Marcy’s conversation rapidly devolves as Austin can’t stop bringing up his ex. The couple’s relationships proceed with not a few awkward moments, such as a scene in which Jeff and Diana attempt to have sex after Jeff has thrown his back out. Nevertheless both continue seeing one another. Jeff and Diana become friends with benefits and Marcy, taking pity on Austin, agrees to help him write the perfect poem to win Catherine back. Gradually, and with some subtle encouragement by friendly bartenders played by Kate Wiseman ’15 and Aaron Kroeber ’16, their unwieldy rapport develops into something deeper.
Each protagonist is matched with certain, somewhat cliché idiosyncrasies—Jeff fumbles his idioms, Austin wears dorky ties—but it’s the physical mannerisms and striking vocals that really bring the characters to life. Murphy Austin perfectly embodies the uptight, but well-meaning Austin, while Miller gives a great performance as the brisk, realist Diana. Diana and Jeff’s songs (“We’re Just Friends” and “That’s What’s Gonna Happen”) are reliably strong physical comedy, while Marcy’s solo songs “Just Not Now” and “Even Though” are emotional highlights of the production, movingly expressing her uncertain feelings.
The New York City of I Love You Because is cozier than the real thing, perhaps. Bartenders double as landlords and Chinese restaurant employees, and all are easily recruited in the service of love. As the sage barista explains, “The people in New York pretend to ignore each other. You’d be surprised how much we actually see.” In this city, connections are all too intentional (Diana makes Marcy wait outside Austin’s workplace so she can “accidentally” bump into him), but authentic feelings are no less precious. Ensemble numbers, especially in the second act, are high-energy and superbly executed. The small cast comes together in seamless four- and six-part harmonies on “I Do,” “What Do We Do It For,” and the culminating song, “I Love You Because.”
A romantic comedy about dating in NYC has the potential to feel tired or cliché, a fate avoided largely due to the likability of the cast. “Working with a small cast made this musical a lot more intense, because there each character gets so much focus and stage time,” Austin wrote in an email. “I think we also got to work more on chemistry and interchange between the characters, since there were so few to interact with.” This natural interplay between characters lends honesty to the production and makes it relatable, if not entirely inspired.
See I Love You Because in Upper Tarble on April 12 and 13 at 8 p.m. and April 14 at 2 p.m.