Saturday, March 15, 2014

The current Tarragon Theatre production of Marry Me A Little is a pastiche of past Sondheim songs set in a generic apartment with a generic couple saying generic things to each other, all in song. The score is relentless and always delightful, with a variety of forays into romantic discord and angst'y melancholy. It is a thoroughly entertaining evening of song brought to life by two very skillful performers. But where have all the sex scenes gone to - in a play about, well, two very attractive people sharing a very small apartment? Go figure.

Elodie Gillett as She and Adrian Marchuk as He are equally matched as they lend a beautiful range of melodic power to Sondheim's complex and astonishing songs, replete with the complicated - simultaneously whimsical and weird - rhyme schemes, and his signature mixture of dark and light tonal qualities. Marchuk does, at times, seem a little restrained emotionally, and yet his energetic phsyicality, as he bounces around the stage, in and out of bed and back and forth across a studio apartment space, keeps one's interest intact. Gillett is equally watchable, and yet there are times when the diverse range she has been directed to share sounds a  bit like an audition for light opera - and vocals akin to the role of Johanna in Sweeney Todd appear at particularly unexpected moments.  Had She shared a budgie or a canary or a caged sparrow or some random flying pet with He, and found loose narrative provocation to sing Green Finch & Linnet Bird this might have worked in her favor. As it stands this dysfunctional couple simply share a bewildering potted plant, and  Gillett's character frequently comes off sounding beautiful but out of her condo'ized element. 

But perhaps that is part of the premise for Marry Me A Little, as Craig Lucas and Norman Rene took a variety of Sondheim songs and loosely strung them together within a contemporary setting. The naturalistic surroundings may seem a little incongruous to some of the high notes Gillett reaches, and yet this is musical theatre and naturalism does tend to fly out the window at the outset. And part of the point, perhaps, of this Jukebox Musical* - framed by a meta-theatrical device that flirts with a surreal sense of what if and what might have been as beginning middle and end all come together in the finale - is the unpredictable and detached nature of modern love. So if this is the case then one cannot help but wonder why director Adam Brazier chose to create such a bourgeois 'ey version when a titillating, even mildly porn'ish same sex seventy-five minute escapade might have added timely and provocatice notes to the overall mise en scene. Brazier moves his actors well and has them occupy the entire space with diverse agility, but the meat of the movement is seriously lacking.

The bedroom scenes, clearly gestures toward the couples sexuality, never really take off, even though He goes to great blocking pains to get in and out of his daywear several times and into more slumbery attire as he nestles his head in she's lap as they lie together on their cushy pullout couch.

The Music is gorgeous, and the singing superb, but perhaps the most superb, somewhat unsung performer among them is the mostly invisible piano player, who appears, literally, out the window. Pianist and Associate Musical Director Scott Christian becomes an intriguing meta-theatrical persona who joins the cast at the end after acting, throughout, as a majotr cohesive agent for the singing duo. Had musical director Paul Sportelli and Adam Brazier collaborated on a sexy and vibrant version of an old chestnutty buffet of Sondheim, then Marry Me A Little might have been loved a lot more.

As it stands it is delightful, at times musically moving, yet limited in its potentially wider, more theatrically magnanimous appeal.


* see wikipedia for Jukebox Musical definition

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