Michael Stewart and Cy Coleman’s “I Love My Wife” is one of the least-often revived long-run tuners (857 Broadway perfs), largely because of its giddy attitudes toward wife swapping and drug use, which began to go sour shortly after its 1977 premiere and now seem offensive or quaint. Everything hinges on the personalities of the two Trenton, N.J., couples contemplating a walk on the wild side. Happily, the thesps tapped by Reprise invest a doggedly retro, toothless show with topnotch entertainment value.
Naughty in its day, tuner now exudes the limply bourgeois air of Nick at Nite reruns. Stewart’s libretto lingers on husbands’ pre-adulterous lechery and fumbling during the act, while ignoring the real tensions among spouses and friends drawn to the idea of swinging. Even the characters are drawn to sitcom specifications, one trait to a customer.
Slick PR guy Wally (Patrick Cassidy) sells his best buddy, truculent moving man Alvin (Reprise a.d. Jason Alexander), on the menage a trois as life enhancer. The poor schmo begins fantasizing access to wisecracking wife Cleo (Vicki Lewis) and modest homemaker Monica (Lea Thompson) in a session of what a crass Stewart lyric calls “four pretty titties and six busy hands.”
Cleo proves remarkably game, but her sexual sandwich has an additional ingredient — Wally, natch. So plans are laid for a Christmas Eve dinner a quatre to end in … well, dessert a quatre.
These machinations are periodically interrupted by a quartet also serving as narrators and walk-ons, performing a Coleman score cheerfully heedless of any musical developments after WWII.
Cavalcade of Dixieland, waltzes and even a ladies’ C&W duet don’t represent Coleman’s most memorable songs, and they have precious little to do with ’70s swapping, but the songs offers a swell musical showcase for the right ensemble, which helmer Larry Moss has assembled.
Lewis and Thompson are strong dancers in Lee Martino’s typically inventive and witty hands and powerful, if overmiked, chantoosies.
Lewis brings poignancy to her underwritten role as put-upon spouse, while Thompson’s stripped-down transition from mouse to Amazon is an eye-opening delight. (For Thompson’s scanties and Lewis’ stunning lavender lounging gown alone, designer Kate Bergh earns the thanks of daddies throughout the L.A. area.)
Cassidy looks and sounds more like late father Jack with each passing year, and his winning blend of wholesomeness and sleaze suggests much more heat than the libretto actually offers. Alexander persuades as the blue-collar Alvin while incorporating his musical comedy savoir faire, with his fastidious pre-coital strip serving as the show’s comic highlight.
The men’s duet “Everybody Today Is Turnin’ On,” a Cole Porter-ish list of words whose meaning has changed in the drug era, encapsulates the evening, with equal amazement prompted by Cassidy and Alexander’s exuberant skill and the lyrics’ bad taste.
It’s no spoiler to report the triumph of conventional morality — show isn’t titled “I Love Your Wife,” after all — especially since we’ve recognized, long before the finale, the disjunction between the complex marital psychology and its feeble treatment herein. Most auds will let it all go anyway, content simply to revel in the musical comedy chops of four gifted performers.