Remembering I Love My Wife
Some musical are period pieces, written with the intention of telling a story in another and place. Other musicals are written as contemporary stories, starting out relevant and feeling edgy and new, only to become dated quickly. Their shelf-life is short for the reason that times change, attitudes change, vernacular changes, and what is relevant today could be irrelevant tomorrow. One musical that enjoyed popularity when it opened in the `1970s, but that hasn’t exactly held up against the test of time is I Love My Wife.
I Love My Wife is set squarely in the 1970s, where the trend of mate-swapping and group sex was catching on in some circles, though within more of a niche portion of the population than the masses (It wasn’t the Rubik’s Cube of its day). In Trenton, New Jersey, married couple Alvin and Cleo have become bored with their sex lives, and discuss putting some zing back into their bedroom activities. Similarly, their married friends Wally and Monica also want to spice things up. Their solution? The couple enter into a foursome on Christmas Eve. The musical follows the quartet as they discuss, plan, dismiss and ultimately follow through on the idea, trying to separate sex from the actual love they feel for their respective spouses. Commenting on, and contributing to, the action (a la a Greek chorus) was the four-piece band, which was taken out of the orchestra pit and put right onstage where they could be a part of the proceedings.
The score for I Love My Wife was concocted by the always sensational Cy Coleman (music) and by predominantly amazing book writer and occasional lyricist Michael Stewart (who wrote both book and lyrics for this show). Among the universally agreeable songs, standouts included the melancholy, country-inspired duet “Someone Wonderful I Missed” and the peppy Act II opener “Hey There, Good Times”, the latter becoming the show’s breakout hit. The book was adapted from a play by Luis Rego.
Opening at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre on April 17, 1977 I Love My Wife featured direction by Gene Saks. The show starred James Naughton, Lenny Baker, Joanna Gleason, and Ilene Graff, with Michael Mark, John Miller, Ken Bichel, and Joseph Saulter as the onstage band. Onna White choreographed. The show was nominated for 6 Tony Awards, winning two: Best Director (Saks) and Best Featured Actor (Baker). It received a Best Musical nomination, but lost to Annie.
I Love My Wife, despite being a small show (which is usually ideal for regional and summer stock theatres with limited budgets), is rarely produced today. The musical’s themes, which were so fresh, contemporary, and edgy in the 1970s, remain tethered to that decade and haven’t aged well. Still, a listen to the score provides a flashback to a period in time where melody was bright and discernible and lyrics could exude equal parts groovy wit and corny fun. Give it a listen when you have a chance. Who knows? Maybe it will inspire a little magic in your bedroom.