Review: ‘You and Me’

Hughie (Gary Imhoff) and Russell (Dan Sachoff) met in kindergarten and have been best friends since. Hughie is the gung-ho, upbeat one, while Russell is the worried dreamer. They are an odd couple: Russell is tall and gangly, Hughie is short and a little cocky, but together, they make a pretty good team, admiring the other's strengths while shoring up weaknesses.

Hughie (Gary Imhoff) and Russell (Dan Sachoff) met in kindergarten and have been best friends since. Hughie is the gung-ho, upbeat one, while Russell is the worried dreamer. They are an odd couple: Russell is tall and gangly, Hughie is short and a little cocky, but together, they make a pretty good team, admiring the other’s strengths while shoring up weaknesses.

Before long, two women waltz into the friends’ lives. First is Donna (Ilene Graff), a cheerleader who is pursued first by Hughie but falls for Russell, whom she eventually marries. Then Patricia (Kirsten Benton), a serious pre-med student, falls for the rakish Hughie and soon they are married. The odyssey continues through war, a shared business, pregnancies, political campaigns, divorce and illness as the two men sort out their lives and their friendship.

The story is highly derivative and predictable, and seems to be one part fact , another part Norman Rockwell drawing. The emotional situations are often cliched, and the play has as many convenient twists and turns as a soap opera. A very sappy ending threatens to undermine the overall effect of the piece.

Nevertheless, the sweetness of the sentiments and the general likability of the performers does manage to win the day. Brenner wisely has decided on a lighthearted approach to the sentimentality and is quite successful in melding the ensemble together. The actors work hard to keep the reality going, even when it is threatened by overheated mushiness.

Imhoff is fine as the bouncy, ebullient Hughie, who can sell almost anything to almost anybody, but who never quite finds himself. Sachoff finds depth and displays an understated grace as sidekick Russell, while Graff is an energetic dynamo. Benton brings great focus and a sense of inner-strength to the different personalities she portrays.

While the performances are excellent and the actors have solid voices, the music and lyrics are undistinguished and add little to the piece. There are a couple of cute novelty numbers, such as “It’s So Easy to Say I Love You,” cleverly choreographed by Brenner, or “I Am Music,” a knock-’em-dead vamp as performed by Benton. However, the numerous ballads are generally bland and uninspiring. Production values are fine for this small venue, with clever use of props and scenery by set designer Raymond G. Storey.

You and Me

Production

You and Me (Ventura Court Theater, Studio City; 72 seats; $ 20 top) Ampersand Theatre Group presents a musical in two acts, music by Ben Lanzarone, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz. Directed by Randy Brenner.

Creative

Set design, Raymond G. Storey; lighting design, John D. Palmer; costumes, Parker Poole. Opened Feb. 4, 1996; reviewed Feb. 18, closes March 7. Running time: 1 hour, 40 min.

Cast

Cast: Gary Imhoff (Hughie), Dan Sachoff (Russell), Ilene Graff (Donna), Kirsten Benton (Patricia). This musical chronicle of friendship, with music by Ben Lanzarone and book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz, is a sweet and innocent piece, lovingly performed by a gifted cast. Despite its contrivances, director Randy Brenner rescues the piece from its maudlin overtones.
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