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A CurtainUp Review
Marry Me a Little
By Elyse Sommer
"Marry Me A Little" from Company is an apt title for the sung-through two-hander since its anonymous "Him" and "Her" typify Company's as well as Saturday Night's lonely New Yorkers. But, to quote from a show for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics, a funny thing happened on the way to bringing a new edition of Marry Me a Little to the Keen Company's home at Theater Row.
Sondheim has become ever more famous and revered as the master of contemporary musical theater. Saturday Night is no longer unproduced and its songs have become familiar to Sondheim's ever expanding fan base through two cast albums. The many revivals of Sondheim's greatest treasures regionally and on Broadway helping to turn even the lesser known songs into standards. With so many Sondheim shows filling my memory book between 1997 when I saw Marry Me a Little at the Queens Theater in the Park, those more full bodied, richer memories make this a less compelling postscript.
That's not to say that the setup isn't still fun: A New York studio apartment that's really two identical apartments, one on top of the other, in which two singles who don't know each other spin out their dreams and fantasies through an assemblage of Sondheim tunes. Except for those fantasies they never actually interact, at least not until the unsurprising but satisfying finale. But, though I definitely count myself among Mr. Sondheim's admirers, the Keen's updated version left me rather underwhelmed and with a sense that Keen, which is known for its sensitively staged straight play revivals, is venturing in a new direction by piggy backng on the theater world's ever more intense love affair with anything Sondheim.
One reason for my so-so response to this new edition of Marry Me A Little, is that it nowadays comes up a bit short in the book department when compared to Jason Robert Brown's much produced musical two-hander, The Last Five Years . More troubling is Jonathan Silverstein's too busy direction. My comment about piggy backing is borne out by having a cello as a prominent and eventually used prop. It supports the clever casting of Lauren Molina, the cello playing Johanna of John Doyle's actor-musician production of Sweeney Todd (review) and affords a good opportunity for a twisty ending — but it IS gimmicky and underscores this revival's insider appeal.
Molina is an appealing, talented performer who brings sparkle to this production, but Mr. Silverstein has eacerbated the busyness by directing her to fuss too much with her hair and failing to make her frequent costume changes (nice choices from Jennifer Paar). The result is less organic than a sense of a forced attempt to make a small show feel bigger.
Jason Tam, also an attractive performer, gets to show off his admirable abs as he and Molina energetically rush back and forth across the Acorn's wide stage. Occasionally they even dance (choreography by Dan Knechtges) and actually connect via the fantasy scenes (evoked with clarity by Josh Bradford's lighting). Unfortunately the chemistry between them is weak. Both sing unmiked — a good idea for a small theater like this except that musical director/pianist John Bell tends to drown out their words. While Bell plays well and his piano has been neatly and unobtrusive positioned next to the kitchen area of Steven C. Kemp's set, he is what he is, not "almost a character in the show" as claimed by Silverstein in a pre-opening Broadway Stars interview.
On a more positive note, there's the music. After all, the plot is merely a device for rescuing the more obscure items from the Sondheim oeuvre. Thus, even though what you hear is not instantly recognizable, there's a definite Sondheim ring to everything and the substitutions of songs from the original Marry Me A Little with never heard selections from the Sondheim catalogue are well chosen.
Except for golden oldie musical hummers like South Pacific by Sondheim's mentor Oscar Hammerstein II, even the biggest musical hits aren't always pure gold and there's a reason why some tunes are left on the cutting room floor. Still, there are some nice jaunty numbers like "Bang" and and "Boy Can That Boy Foxtrot" and, whether from his early or more mature period, all Sondheim's songs are buoyed by the sophistication and cleverness of the lyrics. Besides the sample at the top of this review that sums up the loneliness of singles in the big city, consider his use of alliteration in " All Things Bright and Beautiful" ("All things permanent and perfect/For you, kid,/I mean all things/ bright and beautiful"). He's also no slouch when it comes to catchy similes as in "Saturday Night" ("The moonís like a/Million watt"), "Bang" ("The smell of fear,/Like musk, pervades the air") — or extended ones as in "If You Can Find Me, I'm Here" ("When you wake up with one genius less/ If you can find me, Iím here/ And Iím free]Free as a bird in a tree/Free as the slippers I wear/Free with a yearís warrantee/Free as air]All of these products and me/All that I ask is a chair that tilts")
My review in a tweet: Sondheim aficionados will accept the limitations of this patchwork style mini musical. Sondheim Newbies would be better off with some of his many cast recordings.
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