If I Weren’t With You – Review

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Katherine Fadum as Pam, Joe Slabe as Steve and JP Thibodeau as Allan in If I Weren’t With You by Joe Slabe, photo by Benjamin Laird.

 

If I Weren’t With You

April 1 – 20, 2013

Lunchbox Theatre

http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/if-i-werent-with-you.html

Listen to my review from CBC Eyeopener at http://www.cbc.ca/eyeopener/columnists/theatre/2013/04/02/jessica-goldman—if-i-werent-with-you/

 

Below you’ll find the song list for the Joe Slabe’s world premiere musical, If I Weren’t With You, about what happens when a once happy marriage starts falling apart:

I Do

Everything is Fine

In the Beginning

Someone’s Always There

In Your Shoes

Tell Yourself You’re Happy

The Man in the Middle/If I Weren’t With You

If I Weren’t With You (Reprise)

Someone’s Always There (Reprise)

 

I give you this list not simply because it wasn’t printed in the program. (Which is wasn’t, and anyway what’s up with that? Please, please, please theatre companies…put the songs on the program!!)  I’m giving you the songs because I’m betting you’ll want to go back and read the titles to remember just how much you enjoyed listening to them in this predominantly lighthearted yet grounded in reality musical look at relationship issues.

Directed with finesse by David Leyshon, If I Weren’t With You adds up to a show with 80% comedy, 10% tragedy and another 10% reality in the narrative/lyrical mix. The musical starts with the marriage of Pam (fantastically played by Katherine Fadum) and Allan (JP Thibodeau sweetly playing a man who’s lost himself) who are young and in love with their whole lives ahead of them. The show then quickly fast forwards to several years later when the couple are not so young, not so happy and possibly turning away from the love part. Pam is working all the time not really communicating and Allan is trying to communicate but he’s not really listening. They’re at that awful stage when a marriage is in trouble where they say everything is ‘fine’ to each other, but we all know better. Behind their spouse’s back the couple is secretly dreaming of what life would have been like without each other and all the things they’ve given up to be together. As their frustration grows they begin to fight, say some pretty hurtful things and end up not talking at all. Or at least not to each other. But they do end up talking, separately to Steven (a somewhat stiff yet charming Joe Slabe); a single gay friend of Pam’s who plays the middle-man trying to get the couple to work things out. There is a bit of an emotional twist that gets revealed later in the play that I won’t give away, but it helps explain the genesis of the couple’s problems and it’s the roadblock they need to get past.

But back to the music.  All the songs in the show are written and composed by Slabe who provides a live accompaniment courtesy of a baby grand piano on the stage. It’s an interesting double duty Slabe is taking on here with both playing all the music and also acting a supporting role in the show and Leyshon handles this tricky directional challenge well. At times Slabe works in the background, dimly lit; simply providing the music.  When called upon, Slabe easily transitions into actor/singer and piano player role without any pesky directorial contrivance.

Of the ten songs in this one-act, fifty-minute show, I’m happy to say that I liked every single one. Thematically they all had a kind of jazzy, somewhat funky show tune standard kind of feel to them. So yes, nothing terribly risky or original, but does that matter when each song is eminently hummable and enjoyable on its own merits? With Slabe’s great piano playing and arrangements that guaranteed to tickle your earworms, I don’t think so. But really, it was the lyrics that won me over. If I Weren’t With You is a fairly generic storyline, but what saves this light musical from being nothing but a cliché, are Slabe’s quite funny, smart, insightful, and occasionally melancholy songs that don’t rely too heavily on hackneyed phrasing to make a point.  The ideas they convey maybe old and at times even overly retread, but the words sound fresh and entertaining and even poignant in places. Everything is Fine is a wonderful duet by the couple which has them claiming status quo to each other while wondering why they are secretly upset yet afraid to stir the pot. Someone’s Always There allows Fadum’s voice to shine as she laments that she is never lonely, but painfully aware that she never gets a minute to herself. In one of the best numbers of the show, Allan and Steve drunkenly sing In Your Shoes, a duet about how they wish they could trade relationship statuses with each other. And of course, If I Weren’t With You has the couple hilariously listing off all the things they wouldn’t have (acne, a fat ass, a boring home in the suburbs) and would have (better sex, regular sex, a career they loved) if only they were single and or married to someone else.

Sure the audience pretty much knows how it’s going to all work out, this is a light musical after all. But thanks to peppy direction, fun songs/lyrics and engaging performances, If I Weren’t With You is a delightfully lovely romp through someone else’s marriage struggles.

 

RATING

For the guys – Tired of the guy always being played as a buffoon in comedies about marriage issues? Not the case here. Allan is a relatable character and there is thankfully no attempt to make you take sides. SEE IT

For the girls – This is not adults behaving badly or genders tossed around as stereotypes. While the show is a funny light musical, it does touch on real issues that everyone can appreciate. SEE IT

For the occasional theater goer – A perfect one-act light musical. You’ll like the story, the music, the lyrics and the performers. SEE IT

For the theatre junkie – Sometimes even serious theatre goers just want to be entertained by a fun light, short show. This would be a good one for that. SEE IT

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