A $10 million renovation of a 70-year-old art deco moviehouse in Bethesda has given Robert Nederlander Jr. an East Coast beachhead for his proposed national tour circuit for Off Broadway musicals. The enterprise debuts with a lively production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” conceived exclusively for the new space. The popular tuner for auds who like their entertainment in bite-sized doses has encamped for an indefinite run of at least 20 weeks. A proven revenue machine for theaters around the globe, it has surprisingly never played the D.C. area.
The Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts tuner bows in solid shape with an energetic quartet of veteran thesps equipped with strong voices and sharp comedic skills. They intrepidly explore the highs and lows of personal relationships as they plod through 18 scenes infused with corn, sentimentality and trite scenarios, sung to Roberts’ mostly peppy score.
Director Andy Gale stays true to the winning formula as he paces the show for earnest treatment of the varied material. All is accompanied by piano and violin played from a balcony above the fray.
Yet the undisputed star here is the theater itself, a spacious and comfortable venue featuring a flexible stage, adjustable seating for 580 to 700 persons and an orchestra pit. An offshoot of the Nederlander org, Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment has inked a long-term booking agreement with the owners, the nonprofit Bethesda Cultural Alliance, and will also rent the space to other arts orgs.
But will the unabashedly shallow and outdated “I Love You” find favor in a leafy and staid suburb of the nation’s capital? Probably. Supporting evidence is only a few miles away at the Kennedy Center, where the similarly irrepressible “Sheer Madness” is enjoying its 20th anniversary.