BWW Review: I LOVE YOU BECAUSE at Theatre Harrisburg

BWW Review: I LOVE YOU BECAUSE at Theatre Harrisburg

The age-old struggle of romance has become even more challenging in the modern era. Whether one uses dating apps, blind dates, or sheer luck, finding love has also proven to be a task for the brave and the patient. The search for romance can often be a stressful one, and it can be easy to view relationships through a filter of bitterness and frustration. However, Theatre Harrisburg and their humorous, charming production of I LOVE YOU BECAUSE serves as a much-needed reminder that love, though not always easy, has a way of finding those who dare to seek it out.

I LOVE YOU BECAUSE features music by Joshua Salzman and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham, and first premiered Off-Broadway at the Village Theatre in 2006. The original cast included Farah Alvin, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, and Colin Hanlon, among others, and the show has since enjoyed several regional mountings as well as productions in Off-West End, Liverpool, Canada, and Australia. I LOVE YOU BECAUSE is a modern retelling of Jane Austen's renowned 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice, and centers around Austin, Marcy, Diana, and Jeff: four New Yorkers each attempting to solve the puzzle of romance.

When Austin Bennett discovers that his long-time girlfriend Catherine has been cheating on him, he is determined to win her back with heartfelt poetry, against the advice of his older brother Jeff. Marcy Fitzwilliams has also slipped back into singlehood, and is instructed by her best friend Diana that she must find "Mr. Wrong" before she can encounter the love of her life. Meanwhile, Diana and Jeff have met on an online dating site, and bring Marcy and Austin with them to form a double date. Though Jeff and Diana share an almost immediate connection, Austin and Marcy find that their relationship may not be as easy.

TJ Creedon plays Austin, and excels in bringing out every aspect of the hopeless romantic. He is bursting with energy and enthusiasm, and there is never in a moment in which Creedon does not appear to be completely invested in his character. He possess the largest physicality and expression in the show, and uses these to inhabit both Austin's uptight, structured tendencies as well as his remaining hope and vulnerability. He conveys character in gestures big and small, and this adds to a sense of realism that makes his portrayal all the more interesting.

Creedon's Austin is compelling in his earnesty, and he is able to especially connect with the audience during moments in which he open himself up to them and wins their support. Perhaps one of his greatest strengths is his ability to externalize his character's thought processes; Austin often finds himself in situations where a decision must be made, and Creedon expertly displays the deliberation and character development needed in these moments. He is filled to the brim with both emotion and wit, and walks the line between Austin's frantic, worrisome nature and his dreamy disposition very well. Creedon's Austin is analytical and thrives on routine and standards, but becomes invested in people or scenarios far too easily, and this is made obvious in his portrayal. He experiences both soaring highs and sweeping lows, and Creedon takes each change in stride while also showing a great understanding of comedic timing. Additionally, he possess an incredible voice, and it is put to good use in numbers such as "Maybe We Just Made Love" and "Goodbye."

BWW Review: I LOVE YOU BECAUSE at Theatre Harrisburg

Marcy Fitzwilliams is portrayed by Alexandria Fazzolari, who brings to life a woman who is as free-spirited as Austin is structured. She possesses a remarkably comfortable stage presence, one that helps facilitate the positive, playful nature of her character. Fazzolari's acting style is genuine and sincere, and this serves her well in depicting Marcy's journey to find love. Much like Creedon, Fazzolari thrives on the physical and emotional nuances of her character, especially during her interactions with Creedon's Austin, and this creates a sense of depth and humanity that connects Marcy to the audience. Fazzolari's Marcy is bright and spirited, and has put falling in love at the top of her priorities even when told that she must wait. She clearly values happiness and freedom, and exemplifies this in her views on life: letting fate decide her path.

Fazzolari highlights this carefree nature of her character while also endowing her with a bit of spunk and attitude; she is not afraid to speak her mind, even when the choice to do so is a difficult one to make. Fazzolari excels in her ability to display the many different aspects of Marcy's character, whether she is aiding Austin in his quest to win back Catherine while simultaneously falling for him or attempting to convince herself that Austin is, in fact, "Mr. Wrong." Fazzolari consistently inhabits her character, especially through song, but could occasionally benefit from a bit of an energy boost. Her voice is also commendable, especially in number such as "Coffee," "Just Not Now," and "Even Though," although she sometimes struggles to reach some of the higher notes. r

As is the case with many a pair of unlikely lovers, Austin and Marcy do not begin their journey with mutual attraction. Their views on life and love are fundamentally different, and this clash of opinion leads to many a rift in their relationship. However, the spark between them still exists, and Creedon and Fazzolari do an excellent job of growing this spark into a glowing ember. They work together well to play up the angle of opposites between their characters (Austin is a textbook over thinker while Marcy is anything but cautious) but use moments of banter and argument to build the connection that exists between them. They travel from acquaintances to friends to lovers while still maintaining their respective differences, and Creedon and Fazzolari make sure to highlight this transition. Together, they display moments of attraction, frustration, admiration, and love, and create quite a believable bond between their characters. Their love takes time, and Creedon and Fazzolari successfully build the romance between their characters rather than making the switch from friends to more-than-friends immediate and unconvincing. The journey is slow but steady, and this quality reflects that of many real life romances. The audience is on their side right from the start, and become invested in both their success and failures as a pair. However, Austin and Marcy's relationship is not the only in the show worth celebrating.

Jeff Bennett and Diana Bingley are played by Josh Schwartz and Kayla Kasper respectively, and each deliver wonderful performances. Schwartz maintains perhaps the best comedic timing of the show, and brings a particularly lovable quality to his character. His Jeff is carefree and lighthearted, and yet exudes confidence. He perceives himself to be quite the ladies man, and acts accordingly with what he believes to be excess amounts of charm.

Schwartz's Jeff has a fondness for the simplicity of life, though this desire for uncomplicated affairs has left him with a tendency to reject any form of commitment. He is afraid of settling down, instead preferring to slide through life with no strings attached. However, his relationship with Diana soon tests this mentality, and Schwartz takes time in his performance to show the apprehension Jeff feels at the thought of committing to a potential long-term relationship. Schwartz highlights his character's dorky, goofball nature, and this quickly marks him as an audience favorite. His acting style is particularly natural as well, and he is able to bring out the fun-loving side of Jeff just as easily as he inhabits his moments as a wise older brother figure with Austin. This give his character depth and dimension, and gives the audience all the more reason to love him. Schwartz also showcases strong, soulful vocal ability in number such as "Oh What A Difference," "We're Just Friends," and "That's What's Gonna Happen."

BWW Review: I LOVE YOU BECAUSE at Theatre Harrisburg

Kayla Kasper's Diana is everything that Schwartz's Jeff is not: she is all business, and lives life according to facts and numbers. As an actuary, this makes perfect sense to her, and she thrives on reason and practicality. Kasper's Diana is realistic and matter-of-fact, and always appears slightly exasperated with the people around her. However, she also possesses a bit of the maturity that Jeff seems to lack, and this makes them even more of a perfect fit. Diana, though sometimes a bit calculating, is just as caring and deserving of love as Marcy, and their friendship is marked well as one in which they both want the very best for each other. Diana is unafraid to be real and unflinching in her opinions, even when Marcy or Jeff may not want to hear them, and this is refreshing. Kasper also portrays a Diana who, when finding that her facts and numbers may not always have the answer, chooses to embrace this change and go after what she wants, and this marks her as a strong and admirable woman. Though her acting style is occasionally a bit stiff in terms of line delivery, Kasper is also very comfortable onstage, and even displays a lovely voice in numbers such as "The Actuary Song," "We're Just Friends," and "Marcy's Yours." Kasper even fought through medical difficulties in order to continue to bring Diana to life, and still creates a wonderful character.

Similar to Austin and Marcy, Jeff and Diana also grow together in their romantic journey. While not having much in common, they share an obvious attraction, and learn to love the differences between them. Schwartz and Kasper invoke characters that balance each other and create a pair that, despite opposite temperaments and views on life, very clearly enjoy being around each other. They change each other for the better, and this growth is displayed almost effortlessly by Kasper and Schwartz.

Finally, Carly Lafferty and Tyler Chick round out the cast as New York Woman and New York Man, the two-character ensemble of I LOVE YOU BECAUSE. They serve as casual observers, commentators, and play bit parts in the show, but are just as talented and entertaining as the main cast. Both Lafferty and Chick employ humor and wisdom in their varying roles, particularly as bartenders. They put on an air of having seen it all before, and use this to aid each couple in their difficulties. They are frustrated and cynical when it comes to love, but lament that they may never stop searching, even when they very much want to throw in the towel. Lafferty and Chick are both bursting with charm and wit, and often deliver some of the show's best one-liners. They seem to say what the audience is thinking, and develop a kind of commarady with them that isn't quite reached with the main characters. Their numbers, including "The Perfect Romance," and especially "What Do We Do It For?" are some of the most relatable in the show, and both Lafferty and Chick use spectacular vocals to add to the overall talent of the production.

BWW Review: I LOVE YOU BECAUSE at Theatre Harrisburg

Theatre Harrisburg's I LOVE YOU BECAUSE is truly a love story for the present day. The show is presented in the round, making an already intimate production all the more close to the audience, and uses incredibly modern elements to add to the tone of the show. Even small details such as personal phones being used on stage or shown visibly in the character's back pockets make the production seem as though it could be happening anywhere in America, and this helps the story to resonate even more with the audience. The cast is of the highest calibur; while each shine individually, group numbers such as "Another Saturday Night in New York" and "But I Do," are an absolute delight for the audience. The show is a pure, simple romp through the modern world of dating--the good, the bad, and the complicated--while bringing an unabashed smile to the face of any lucky enough to see it. Theatre Harrisburg brings humor and romance back into the present day, and this production leaves the audience with plenty of reasons to say, "I love it because..."

Presented by Theatre Harrisburg. Next is HAIRSPRAY. Visit www.theatreharrisburg.com.

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From This Author Allison Rambler

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