A Not-So Overnight Off-Broadway Phenomenon
Whether its Bob Hope Drive in downtown Burbank, Korn Row named after the Rock band Korn) on a rustic side street in Bakersfield, or I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change Way in New York City, you know you’ve finally made it when a city names a street after you.
For the musical I Love You, Your Perfect, Now Change, the honor came after celebrating its 10th Anniversary running Off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre on 43rd Street in March of last year, making it only the second play in the history of Off-Broadway theatre to reach this milestone.
It’s quite the
achievement, especially when considering the sluggish performance of many
Off-Broadway shows since
The Hammerstein Legacy
Although most may
recognize the Hammerstein name as part of the musical team of Oscar Hammerstein
II and Richard Rodgers, it was actually James Hammerstein’s great grandfather,
Oscar Hammerstein I, whose love of the performing arts first quite literally
transformed the physical landscape of
In 1864, Oscar
Hammerstein I was just another German immigrant to
One can understand if James Hammerstein felt more than a little pressure living under the looming shadow of two such formidable figures in American theatre history—not to mention a grandfather and uncle who enjoyed successful theatre careers running vaudeville houses around the city.
Starting at the Bottom
However, just because he possessed the Hammerstein name didn’t guarantee James a glamorous job when he decided to pursue the family business. His first gig? Second assistant stage manager on Me and Juliet, a lesser Rodgers and Hammerstein work directed by George Abbott.
Abbott ultimately became a surrogate father to Hammerstein, who confessed in a 1995 interview with the Star-Ledger: “Whenever I work on a show, I sometimes hear my father’s voice in my head giving me advice. But I often hear George Abbott’s voice, too.” Abbott recruited Hammerstein to work as the production stage manager for the 1954 revival of On Your Toes and the first production of Damn Yankees.
Like Abbott, James would find his calling in the director’s chair. Unlike Abbot, however, it wouldn’t be until the end of his career when he took on the role of producer that he achieved a success comparable to that of his father and great grandfather.
From Mentee to
involvement with I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now
Change actually came out of his own mentor/mentee
relationship with director Joel Bishoff. He met Joel
while teaching a course on Harold Pinter at
One day, Joel asked James if he would like to come hear a new musical called Love Lemmings he was working on with playwright Joe Dipietro. Initially written as a series of vignettes about the trials and tribulations of the modern dating scene, Joel encouraged Joe to work with composer Jimmy Roberts to turn the series of sketches into a musical review. Although most industry insiders considered the review form about as dead as John Wilkes Booth, James Hammerstein saw potential in the play during the show’s first reading. He immediately recruited Bernie Kukoff and Jonathan Pollard to help him produce the new musical.
Not an Overnight Sensation
the show’s name from Love Lemmings to I Love, You, Your Perfect, Now Change, the show toured regional theatres outside of
would never get to enjoy the ribbon cutting ceremony that rechristened
We can only guess what kind of celebration he would have thrown for a show that reached the 4,000 performance milestone.