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Christina Muens

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

It’s hilarious, fast-paced and so much fun with toe-tapping music — those are the ingredients that make I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change the right choice to breathe life into the latest era of the Smithtown Performing Arts Center.

The historic 365-seat theatre with its grand marque still stands proudly on Main Street in Smithtown even after going through several incarnations since first opening its doors in 1933 as a movie house. It was acquired by United Artists in 1968 and ran movies until 2001 when it was purchased privately and segued into presenting live theatre in 2002. 

The Smithtown Performing Arts Council, a non-profit organization, was formed in 2008 to oversee operations of the theatre. Then when the theatre was put up for sale once again in 2021, the Council, with the support from the Town of Smithtown, grants, and community donors, purchased it in April 2022. On August 4 the curtains went up, ushering in a new era of live main stage productions with this gleeful musical comedy.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is a series of vignettes joined by an overriding arc that dissects the stages of love and relationships. The musical comedy, with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music by Jimmy Roberts, is the second-longest running Off-Broadway musical having premiered at the Westside Theatre August 1, 1996, until it closed July 27, 2008.

The show calls upon its four-person cast to be outstanding actors and singers with high energy sustained throughout the two hours of lively entertainment. An additional challenge is to be one character in one scene, then do a quick transformation including costume to hair and reappear as an entirely different character with a distinctly different way of walking, talking and feeling. 

The cast, simply referred to in the program as Woman 1 (Laura Meade), Man 1 (James M. Lotito Jr.), Woman 2 (Christina Muens) and Man 2 (Steve Corbellini) have taken on this impressive task to perfection with the audience leaving the theatre exclaiming “That was fabulous!” “Weren’t they amazing?!” YES, all four actors were AMAZING! Each carried his or her parts with gusto and without a weak link in the cast — no small accomplishment since all four actors span the ages from young daters to young marrieds to parents to middle aged into the elderly years and must be believable every step of the way.

Act I opens with “Cantata for a First Date” chanted by four images swathed in white sheets representing monks and giving the impression that we are about to embark on a magical journey. The Cantata is reprised three times throughout the show. Act I is so much fun as it exploits all the quirks in dating and early relationships. The first scene is hilarious when Muens and Corbellini confess “We’ve got baggage” and we are off to the dating disaster stage. 

In “A Stud and a Babe,” Lotito sits opposite Meade in a restaurant as both feel obviously awkward and Lotito mutters to himself, “I’d be better at flirting if I had looks that kill.” Another scene has the two women lamenting “There’s a serious single man drought!” The men follow that up with “I’m a guy! I never stop to ask directions.” 

Act II starts off on high test with Meade fluttering around in a hideous bridesmaid dress as she drones, “All those husbands are gone but those dresses live on.” Act II is poignant as it focuses on marriage, parenthood, divorce then old age. The message that the Epilogue sends is “Go forth with joy. Find someone to love, then spend the rest of your life trying to change them.” Hence, I love you, you’re perfect, now change!

To assist in the smooth transitions is a set that morphs easily from scene to scene constructed by Keith Blum, Jacques St. Louis and Michael Mucciolo. The giant screen upstage center is a nice touch that highlights each scene projecting images including a swirling constellation, a tennis court, a stained-glass cathedral, a cascade of twinkling stars and so on. A few well-placed chairs, round tables and sofa move into place according to their function in each scene.

With so many scene changes, Chris Creevy’s lighting design seems to take the audience by the hand leading them from one vignette into the next with a fluidity that never interrupts the flow of action.

Carmela Newman’s costumes define characters and at times add humor like with the loud print Hawaiian shirt in “Why? Cause I’m a Guy?” and the cringe-worthy pink flouncy gown replete with puffs of red, white and coral flowers in “Always a Bridesmaid.”

Musical Director Bobby Peterson appears upstage center at the piano throughout the entire show with extraordinary accompaniment that makes this production seamless. Sound design by Jacques St. Louis enhances the gorgeous sopranos of Meade and Muens while it adds crispness to the vocal calisthenics of Corbellini and Lotito. Sound operator Harrison Giordano smoothly navigates through all the sound cues in this show.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is such fun especially on a warm summer night, so come see it at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center. You’ll be glad you did.

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main St., Smithtown presents I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change on Aug. 11, 12 and 13 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 14 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $45, $40 seniors. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.

From left, Brian Gill, Christina Muens, Abigail McCabe (on chair) and TracyLynn Conner in a scene from ‘Nine’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three continues its 49th season with the Broadway smash hit musical “Nine.” With book by Arthur Kopit and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, the award-winning show is based on the semi-autobiographical 1963 film of Italian film director/screenwriter Federico Fellini’s life, titled “8½.”

Clockwise from top left, TracyLynn Conner, Christina Muens, Abigail McCabe and Brian Gill in a scene from ‘Nine’
Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the musical follows the artistic journey of celebrated Italian director Guido Contini (Brian Gill) and his quest to find an idea for his next film. His last three films have been flops and he has an extreme case of writer’s block. A movie contract has been signed with his producer Liliane La Fleur (Debbie D’Amore) but there is no script. Should he write a Western? A Bible-inspired epic? A documentary? The stakes are high and time is running out.

As if Contini didn’t have enough to worry about, his wife Luisa (Christina Muens) is considering leaving him, his naive mistress Carla (Abigail McCabe) thinks he wants to marry her, and his muse, movie star Claudia Nardi (TracyLynn Conner) is getting tired of being cast in the same type of roles and is about to walk away.

To try to clear his head, Contini and his wife take a trip to the Fontane di Luna spa in Venice. Worried about deadlines, his producer tracks him down at the spa and insists he write a musical. Improvising on the spot, the director chooses to his own life experiences and relationships to create a Casanova-inspired flick and hires the staff at the spa to be the cast.

As the film begins to take shape, fantasy and reality are intertwined as Contini has constant flashbacks  — when he was a little boy (played by the adorable Brayden E. Bratti) with his mother (Linda May), and his many affairs, all in an attempt to seek cinematic inspiration.

In the role of Guido Contini, said to be one of the most demanding roles in musical theater, Brian Gill brilliantly leads the talented cast of “Nine” on a 2½-hour thought-provoking musical romp.

Accompanied by a seven-piece band led by Jeffrey Hoffman, the musical numbers are perfectly executed, with special mention to “Guido’s Song, “Folies Bergeres,” “Ti Voglio Bene/Be Italian” and the “Grand Canal.”

The top-notch choreography by Nicole Bianco, the beautiful costumes by Ronald Green III, the impressive set by Randall Parsons and the masterful lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr., which lets the audience know what is real and what is flashback, ties it all together nicely. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Nine The Musical” on the Mainstage through March 23. Please note, “Nine” contains adult themes and situations. Parental discretion advised. The 2018-19 Mainstage season continues with “The Miracle Worker” from April 6 to 28 and “The Wizard of Oz” from May 18 to June 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.