Broadway at Duke opened its 2005-06 season on Nov. 8th with the musical revue of love and marriage, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, a show that demands quite a bit from its performers. In this case, a quartet of voices soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone take on a bank of 18 songs that are all written with tongue pretty much in cheek as they address the multiple aspects of love and marriage. We go all the way from first dates between modern man and woman to second marriages of those already missing their mates of multiple decades.

Although the show is snappy and swift, it requires not only superb acting and timing skills from each quartet member but also a pretty stellar set of pipes on each, to boot. This particular touring company, directed by Joel Bishoff, features members of a cast who have created their roles already for another company of the same work; that being the case, one wonders why this particular show was so unstellar in its presentation.

The cast consists of Nick Spear, baritone; Daniel Tatar, tenor; Rebecca Spear, soprano; and Amy White, alto. White has been a member of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change companies in both New York and Boston; Tatar has been a member of this show in both Chicago and San Francisco; Nick Spear, along with his bride Rebecca (you did note the same last names?), have each completed year-long runs of the show in San Diego, quite possibly the same show. So what’s the problem?

It’s not that these four don’t know the show; that is obvious. Each one has his or her characters nicely fleshed out, and each one has the opportunity to really shine onstage, both singly and together. It’s not the music; not only is it quite intricate and savvy; it is accompanied by a crackerjack pianist who really tickles the ivories, Steve Saari, who has worked with this and other well-known musicals such as Jekyll & Hyde, Ragtime, and The Fantasticks.

The problem, methinks, is familiarity. We won’t go so far as to quote the old adage of contempt; that doesn’t apply. But what familiarity to this degree does breed is a tendency to run on autopilot. We have seen this very thing before in a much larger production, when the touring company of The Phantom of the Opera came to Raleigh. The result was a canned performance that took sheer force of will on the part of the lead characters to break; and only then in the final scenes of the second act. This show was not that bad. But it lacked spontaneity and sparkle, and those two ingredients are essential if five performers wish to entertain an auditorium full of people with a handful of songs.

The show is, more than anything else, cute. It is also funny, wicked, sometimes devilish, clever, and at times touching. But more than anything else, it is cute. It would be, perhaps, more funny, wicked, devilish, clever and touching, and less cute, if these performers were not so intimately familiar with the material. If the music, sketches, and humor were a little more fresh, more vivid, and not so old-hat, then this could have been a knock-me-out performance. As it was, it was cute. I enjoyed it; but the show was not impressive. It was good, but it was not terrific. And I really wanted it to be terrific.

There were moments, aspects of the show, that were impressive. Nick Spear has a whole stable full of character voices at his disposal, and his final skit with Amy White, about two senior citizens who find they are meeting too much at people’s funerals, was tremendous. Spear also leads the entire cast in a clever cavalcade of choreographed chairs, in “On the Highway of Love,” as he drives while the rest of the cast plays his more-than-just-a-little-dysfunctional family.

Rebecca Spear had some cute but rather repetitive characters that all but disappeared in the memory compared to her dynamic portrayal of “The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz.” This was literally up-close-and-personal; we watched her on a video screen as she poured out a heart-felt confessional of how she had come to this point. She performed the entire thing with her back to us, facing the video camera, and the combination of excellent performance and clever staging was a high point of the show.

But overall this was not a show worthy of the ticket price, plus the added cost of parking at Duke. It was a good show; there’s no doubt about that. But a “good” show is not what I hope to find onstage at Broadway at Duke.

Broadway at Duke: [inactive 9/07]. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change: [inactive 8/06].