Recently, there’s been a string of modern off-Broadway New York-based musicals which employ kooky characters and a knowing sense of humour to cast a new light on modern relationships. I Love You Because is a musical born in this era – the era of Jason Robert Brown and breaking the fourth wall; of non-linear storylines and off-the-wall jokes, of characters who resemble people you might actually know. But I Love You Because goes one step further than its comrades-in-arms: it takes one of the oldest and most beloved stories in our culture – that of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – reverses the genders and transplants it in modern-day New York City.
When the show first opened in New York on Valentine’s Day 2006, reviews were universally positive, and the show fast became a favourite with musical theatre fans. Its debut in Melbourne in 2008 saw a new legion of Australian followers. One of these was Harrison Wall, who is now making his directorial debut with a production of the show with independent theatre company PEP Productions.
Describing the show as a “musical comedy”, Wall explains: “It’s equal parts Pride and Prejudice and How I Met Your Mother … [but it’s also got] friends-with-benefits, creepy baristas, Fran Drescher, dating secrets of the insurance industry and more!”
The plot follows six characters as they attempt to negotiate the ins and out (no pun intended) of modern dating. Wall says it is “clever, wickedly funny and sometimes … just a little bit… wrong.”
Which is all part of its charm. The show seeks to turn the familiar story of love in the time of corsets on its head. Written by Ryan Cunningham and Joshua Salzman when they had just finished university, it reflected on the kind of people who inhabited their life, the kind of world Elizabeth Bennett would not have recognised – and yet, the universal themes of unrequited love and misunderstood intentions still resonate today.
“The script cleverly draws the parallel inferences,” Wall explains. “For beginners, our female protagonist is called 'Marcy' instead of 'Darcy' … Pride and Prejudice endures … in today's setting because its message is timeless.” He says the overriding message is simple: “There is the suggestion that maybe the concept of love is purely on its expression and this show really adds a step further to most musical love stories … that it is not so much that you love someone, but [more] how you can show them you love them. It is not a case [of] you love them 'even though' they have differences or irritations but 'you love them because' of those things."
Wall, who is in his third year of a Bachelor of Performing Arts/Law degree at Monash University, believes that PEP Productions were the perfect company to produce I Love You Because, as they had such experience putting on alternative theatre. “Since they were established, [PEP Productions] has strived to put on … off-Broadway or non-mainstream type [of] productions … in an effort to present an alternative to Eastern suburban theatre and provide an opportunity to do the shows bigger companies will not consider,” Wall says. I Love You Because follows on from previous PEP shows like Urinetown, City of Angels, and Songs for a New World, which all have a reputation for pushing the boundaries of mainstream theatre.
Wall says that I Love You Because will have wide appeal and is a truly unique production: “If audiences are looking for something different from the eighty-seventh reproduction of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show or West Side Story or anything done to death, then this is the chance to see something that is hardly done,” he says. “The music so well written and has a very balanced dynamic. – the mix of the up-tempo with the softer, more lyrical songs is just perfect and brings the script to this new level … The emotive effect it has on an audience is so strong, when Marcy belts out her heart in order to explain her confused state of love the audience feels it with her, when Danny and Brigitte proclaim provide their anecdotes of failed attempts and professing their love to others, everyone laughs along with them [while there is also] a slight feeling of pity. The music is the architecture of the characters’ feelings and it serves the script so well.”
The cast of six were picked through a gruelling audition process which saw many apply for the roles. Wall says, “[The] audition process was difficult given the outstanding level of talent that came to audition… the final six are some of the best performers you’ll see in Melbourne.” The final six, he says, work well together as a team and deliver “mesmerising” performances. “Each of them have [sic] worked so hard to establish these characters … What is truly special is the unique flair each and every one has brought to the show,” he explains. “Whether it is an adlibbed vocal line or the ability to draw out a joke or a superbly delivered ballad each actor has something to offer this show.”
Finally, Wall guarantees a night “full of laughs and entertainment … Join us as we discover fascinating new uses of chocolate syrup and answer that eternal question: [how] is life like a pickle?”
I Love You Because opens on Friday 16th September and is showing at the Doncaster Playhouse, 679 Doncaster Rd, Doncaster. Adults: $29, Concession: $27