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Off Broadway Reviews

I Love My Family, But...

Theatre Review by James Wilson - March 11, 2023

Katie Oxman, Julian Diaz-Granados, Jennifer Dinolfo,
and J.D. Daw

Photo by Wendy Gundrum
I Love My Family, But..., the amiable new revue at the Huron Club at SoHo Playhouse, is composed of sixteen musical snapshots focused on a presumably typical family in, as the script states, "nondescript Middle America." If audience members do not necessarily see their own families and experiences reflected in the sketches, they will certainly recognize the set-ups from television situation comedies. A talented cast and a handful of genial tunes, however, lift the show from feeling like an endlessly syndicated re-run.

In a lot of ways, the 80-minute revue is reminiscent of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts' musical that ran for more than a decade at Off-Broadway's Westside Theatre. That show also drew on familiar situation-comedy motifs and it explored the quirks and perks of heterosexual coupling. I Love My Family, written by Brandon Lambert and Lauren Gundrum, follows a married couple, beginning with the birth of their son and concluding on his 30th birthday. Along the way, we drop in on, for instance, awkward conversations about the birds and the bees, adolescent crushes, college farewells, and the mixed blessings of marriage.

Some of the songs and sketches have neat little twists, such as a lullaby sung by the mother Martha (Katie Oxman), who croons to her fussing baby, "You are an accident/ I chose to keep/ But you're not too old to adopt." Similarly, when the son Timmy (Julian Diaz-Granados) announces that he wants to grow up and become a social worker, his father Frank (J.D. Daw) advises in song: "A true dream job is a job that makes you rich as fudge" because, "If you're middle class, you're fudged."

Others produce a sense of pop cultural déjá vu. A funeral for a pet goldfish as the family gathers around a toilet, for example, appears to be a repackaging of a bit from "The Cosby Show." And the musical seems to be channeling Nanny Fine from "The Nanny" when Timmy's childhood sweetheart and eventual bride, Claire (Jennifer Dinolfo), sings about the ultimate reward of marriage: "I can get fat/ I can get fat/ Oh, I can get fat/ Yeah!" The parents' horror to learn that their son is straight and not gay as they had hoped/expected has become a well-worn comedy cliché at least since the 1990s.

Unfortunately, the writers tend to rely on cheekiness and snark in their lyrics, and it is a shame. Many of the numbers exude notable tunefulness, but jokes seemed to be shoehorned into them. The final song, "Shoulder to Laugh On," is among the sincerest, but it is marred by a groan-worthy reference to "What kind of car would Jesus drive / a Christ-ler."

If the songs and sketches often disappoint, the cast never does. Directed by Guy Stroman and choreographed by Sierra Lai Barnett, the small ensemble is completely winning. Accompanied by Alex Ratner on the piano, they work beautifully together as well as individually. Oxman has a supple, lovely voice and is endearing as the mother, and Daw is equally charming as the alternately bumbling and vulgarly straightforward dad. As childhood friends turned adult lovers, Diaz-Granados and Dinolfo are delightfully wry and engaging throughout.

The Huron Club has a postage-stamped size stage, but the performers intermingle among the audience sitting at tables and at the bar in the small basement setting. The chance to hear Broadway-caliber voices unmiked and in an intimate space is indeed rather refreshing. And, best of all, you can't get that on television.

I Love My Family, But...
Through April 8, 2023
SoHo Playhouse, Huron Club, 15 Vandam Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: