Arts & Culture

Review: May River Theatre's 'You Haven't Changed a Bit, and Other Lies' not for everyone, but lessons should be heeded by everyone

The cast of "You Haven't Changed a Bit" presented by May River Theatre Company. From left are Bob Fitzsimmons (as Steve Fine), Nancy Laws (as Sarah Fine), Ken Perkowski (as Eddie Bellini), Barbara K. Clark (as Audrey Bellini), John Lavelle (as Mike Dooley) and Kay Owen (as Liz Dooley).
The cast of "You Haven't Changed a Bit" presented by May River Theatre Company. From left are Bob Fitzsimmons (as Steve Fine), Nancy Laws (as Sarah Fine), Ken Perkowski (as Eddie Bellini), Barbara K. Clark (as Audrey Bellini), John Lavelle (as Mike Dooley) and Kay Owen (as Liz Dooley). Kellie McCann Photography

Aging can be a delicate matter for even the most stoic among us, but a new musical at the May River Theatre in Bluffton strives to take some of the sting out of growing older by couching the subject in comedic terms.

"You Haven't Changed a Bit, and Other Lies," tells the story of three couples -- all good friends with different social backgrounds -- who are navigating the ups and downs of retirement. Or, as some like to call it, "the golden years."

But as the Bellinis, the Fines and the Dooleys soon learn, that's just a bunch of "Kind Lies and Tactful ... ," uh, let's use the initials B.S. in place of what the opening number's actual title suggests.

In fact, the audience at opening night Friday was warned by the production's director, Christine Grefe, that there would be a few words "coming at you," suggesting the play -- not suitable for those younger than 18, as Grefe also mentioned -- would be a bit edgy.

The problem is, while the production was well executed overall, and the cast is a lovable bunch, as I learned after following along on earlier auditions, the musical's storyline is not all that edgy or imaginative. What's more, it's just not meant for everyone.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing, or even unintended.

Written by father-son duo Jerry and Steve Mayer, the musical lives in the realm of aging, of being married for many years, of trying to stick together when things get tough, and it is most definitely aimed at those over 60. It even says so on the script's cover: "A Musical About Growing Up at 60."

So for an older audience, which May River Theatre tends to attract, as board members tell me, that's a good thing.

Ticket sales, in fact, have already surpassed expectations. Friday's packed audience was mostly made up of seniors.

Still, "You Haven't Changed a Bit" contains a lot of corny humor that reminds you of that socially inappropriate, wise-cracking uncle who gets invited to Thanksgiving as an afterthought. You know the one: He thinks he's a laugh riot but really, not so much.

Case in point: When Liz Dooley, the unhappy wife of alcoholic Mike Dooley, says, "You won't lift a finger to exercise," Mike Dooley responds, "Not true. Finger, drop and give me 40!"

But setting aside its age-specific appeal and cornball humor, the musical did present several hilarious numbers anyone would find entertaining, including, "What Am I Doing/Where's My Car?"

These selections were done very well by John Lavelle, who played Mike, Ken Perkowski (Eddie), Nancy Laws (Sarah), and Bob Fitzsimmons (Steve).

In fact, "The Role Reversal Tango," a complicated number in terms of choreography and coming in on cue, was highly original and executed well by the men and undoubtedly planned by Grefe, who also served as the production's choreographer.

Not to be outdone, the production's women were equally skilled in delivering high-energy hilarity in the very funny number "Upper Arms," led by Barbara Clark who played Audrey.

And if you came away from such bittersweet and heart-warming numbers as "What Happened to My Love Song" and "I Watched You While You Were Sleeping" without a lump in your throat, there's probably something wrong with you.

Both were beautifully done with a great deal of emotion and honesty by Laws and Kay Owen, who played Liz.

A few of the performers seemed a bit nervous and stiff in the first few numbers, which could be attributed to opening-night jitters, but they quickly warmed up to their characters and were much more comfortable and natural acting by the second act.

In terms of staging, I didn't care for some of the scenes to be set in front of the curtain, which, compared to those set in the full set of the living room behind the curtain, seemed less intimate or play-like, though I'm not sure how you would get around this, given the size of the stage in the Ulmer Auditorium.

Still, as with most community theater productions, one can expect modest staging or the absence of high production values. And sometimes you don't need these things to get your point across -- that true love can be found in touching the face of the one you love while that person is sleeping.

While it may not be for everyone, there is truth in "You Haven't Changed A Bit, and Other Lies" and perhaps for that reason it should be seen by everyone, whatever stage of life you're in.

If you go

"You Haven't Changed a Bit, And Other Lies" will run through Nov. 22 at the May River Theatre, 20 Bridge St., Bluffton.

Showtimes are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets are $25.

Reservations may be made by calling 843-815-5581.

For details, visit www.mayrivertheatre.com.

Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at twitter.com/MindyatIPBG.

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