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“I Love” Mercer Players’ latest live performance

Brittani Howell

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The Mercer Players outdid themselves with their most recent performance, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. The musical’s two-week run kept audiences packing out the theater and rolling in the aisles as the Players revealed everything you ever wanted to know about love and marriage but were afraid to ask.
I Love You is told through a series of vignettes depicting different couples at various points in their romantic relationships. Some directors cast a different set of actors for each scene, of which there are about twenty. Director Scot Mann’s decision to keep an ensemble of ten cast members allowed his Players to show off their versatility as each actor had the challenge of juggling three or four completely different roles. Not only did the actors manage to balance their roles without undergoing identity crises, but they kept each of their characters distinct and memorable. Watching sophomore Suzanne Stroup and fifth-year senior Isaac Callahan appear as middle-aged parents disgruntled at their son’s break-up, only to completely transform into two young parents scrambling to find time for their sex life, was delightful and hilarious.

Speaking of hilarity, I know that my diaphragm literally hurt during the show because I was laughing so hard. The Players aced the comedic aspect of this performance. During a comedy the actor’s biggest challenge is keeping a straight face when he knows the line he says is going to get a laugh. The cast of I Love You had this down to a science, and their delivery carried the comedy brilliantly. Another challenge in performing a comedy is getting the timing right, and the actors carried out this too with excellence. Their energy in the show was also remarkable. I saw the closing matinee of the show on April 17, and although I’m sure the Players were tired after two weeks of performing they didn’t show it at all. They carried the show with energy and enthusiasm right up to the curtain call.
I found the vocals in the show to exceed my expectations. I knew that some of the cast members did not have much of a background in singing, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good the cast sounded as a whole. I have to give credit, though, to the ladies of the cast; their beautiful voices really carried the musical numbers.

The ensemble came together with beautiful chemistry, and Mann did a good job pairing the acting couples. Mercer alum Shamir Long and senior Lauren Lunsford captured hearts in the audience from their comedic first date at the movies in “Tear Jerk” to their adorable geriatric foxtrot in “Funerals Are For Dating.” The musical allowed the audience to witness the return of acting veterans Marcella Murray and Kevin Mobolade, both of whom appeared alongside Stroup and seniors Tory Johnson and Evan Ayoub in Six Characters in Search of an Author, and Monica Titus, formerly Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest. Although the Backdoor Theatre bids a sad farewell to graduating seniors Johnson and Ayoub, I Love You also debuted the talented freshman Sarah Beth Roach. After watching her performance as a truly endearing nerd in the song “A Stud and a Babe,” I hope that she becomes a frequent face on the Backdoor Theatre’s stage and a new addition to the Players’ already impressive ensemble.

The crew of the show did a great job with the set, which was functional and visually appealing. A tricky slip stage allowed the crew to pull a section of the stage out of the audience’s sight so they could take off old set pieces and send out new ones for the next scene. This device allowed for quick, easy and entertaining scene changes, streamlining the action of the show rather than interrupting it with a cumbersome blackout.

Having said all of this, I have to admit that the most impressive aspect of the Players’ performances in I Love You is the range of emotions they covered. The purely comedic scenes such as  “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and “Scared Straight” yielded beautifully to the sweetness of Monica Titus’ solo “I Will Be Loved Tonight” and Callahan’s “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love with You.” I have heard several people say that this musical was the best show they have seen the Mercer Players perform, and I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree. I loved it, it was almost perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing.

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“I Love” Mercer Players’ latest live performance