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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
I Do! I Do!

. . . It's a brave new world that you enter when you say 'I do!'
---Agnes and Michael, from the title song.
When I Do! I Do! opened on Broadway in 1966 it was the the most intimate musical ever. As Jan de Hartog's play, The Fourposter, was a stage hit (starring Lili Palmer & Rex Harrison) and a screen hit (starring Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn), so the musical version written by lyricist Tom Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt for Mary Martin and Robert Preston became one of those little engines that could success stories, with revivals still going strong long after the initial 560-performance Broadway run. This intimate musical genre has also inspired uounger musical theater creators (e.g.: The Last Five Years , a darker, more contemporary take on marriage and Thrill Me about a famous murder).

In the light of marital statistics which indicate that marriage partners celebrating 50 year wedding anniversaries are less common than those who split up, much of this two-hander's longevity can be attributed to the nostalgic appeal of watching the good old days of marital longevity. Of course, there's also the charm and wit of the songs.

While the show may be small in terms of cast (a decided plus for today's cost-conscious theater organizations) it has a big lineup of songs. All are sweetly melodic and yet the lyrics are pointed and clever. Like the Jones & Schmidt team's record breaking The Fantasticks(17,162 performances Off-Broadway, not to mention world-wide productions), I Do! I Do! has at least one break-out number, you're likely to recognize instantly; that's "My Cup Runneth Over" which made it into the hit parade category when Andy Williams, Jack Jones and several other singers made recordings. ("In only a moment we both will be old / We won't even notice the world turning cold. / And so in this moment with sunlight above / My cup runneth over with love").

In case you're not familiar with the plot either from previous productions of the musical or the popular filmed version of the play, it can be summed up as fast as you can say "I do." It's a musical odyssey through half a century of married life, from 1895 to 1945. That odyssey has us witnessing Michael and Agnes shyly consummate their marriage and go through the typical ups and downs of married life -- the birth, teen years and marriage of two children; the major crises in their relationship (his success as a novelist leads to an infatuation with a younger woman; the empty nest leaves her feeling at loose ends and contemplating life on her own); and finally their leaving their house for an apartment.

Like most regional productions, the two performers who carry the big acting and singing burden of telling the story are not big name name stars. Nor is Gower Champion, (the original director) on hand to oversee the few Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers moments. Sarah Kauffman and Gary Patent are an attractive pair of young actors but, unfortunately, neither has the acting or singing chops to bring the necessary musical or interpretive richness to these demanding roles. While in these days of over-amplified musicals it's always a pleasure to hear a singer's natural voice, Kauffman and Patent lack the experience and vocal power to do justice to the songs, even with the single piano that serves as an orchestra astutely tucked behind the stage to avoid drowning out the voices. Their dancing is on a par with Chirstine O'Grady's choreography about which the best that can be said is that it's adequate.

My reservations aside, Sarah Gurfield has staged the show with considerable style. It makes for a nice touch to have Agnes and Michael make their first appearance on the small platforms above each side of the stage in their wedding attire undergarments. They finish dressing as they descend the stairs and briefly rush up and down the theater's aisles as if the audience members were the wedding guests. From then on the four poster bed on wheels dominates the proceedings as it has in all straight or musicalized productions. Audra Avery's back panels cleverly double as doors for entrances and exits and as and walls for various props. The painted carpet is especially attractive and Jessica Riser-Milne's costumes are quite lovely and help to establish the passing years.

New York producers on the look-out for ways to defray the ever-rising costs of putting on a show, might take note of how Berkshire Theatre Festival has used I Do! I Do! as a tribute to two well-known local culture boosters. The white-haired couple feature on the program cover are not this production's Agnes and Michael made up for their final scenes, but Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick who are known to Berkshirites not only for their own enduring marriage and successful enterprises (the Red Lion Inn, The Porches, Country, Courtains) but their generous support of local cultural institutions like BTF. My earlier comments about divorced couples gaining on those who, like Agnes and Michael, soldier through their differences, notwithstanding, there are enough golden anniversary parties to make me wonder if a shortened version of this sweet little show might not have a whole new life dished up with a celebratory 50th wedding cakes at private parties. The Fitzgeralds' own spacious Red Lion Inn dining room would be a perfect setting for a local trial run.

For the original show cast album, go to our book store .
You might also want to check out the just issued new edition of the amazing history of Jones & Schmidt's The Fantasticks .

Book & Lyrics by Tom Jones, music by Harvey Schmidt
Based on The Fourposter by Jan de Hartog Directed by Sarah Gurfield
Musical Director/Pianist: Carlton E. Maaia II
Cast: Sarah Kauffman and Gary Patent.
Sets: Audra Avery
Costume Design: Jessica Risser-Milne
Lighting Design: Aaron J. Mason
Sound Design: Adam Scott Howarth
Running Time: 2 hours, with an intermission May 26, 2005 to June 18, 2005
Berkshire Theatre Festival/Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA. 413/298-5536 www.berkshire
Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm; Monday through Saturday evenings
from June 20- 25
Seating: General Admission.
Tickets: $32-$37.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on May 28th performance

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