review: marry me a little

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Marry Me a Little

Songs by Stephen Sondheim
Conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein
Featuring Jason Tam, Lauren Molina
Keen Company, Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street
October 2, 2012 (opening) — October 27, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 26, 2012

(L-R) Lauren Molina, Jason Tam.

Sondheim rules in my musical theatre loving heart. As a result, I view concert treatments and revivals and any chance to see the work of the master as a treat and a viewing imperative.  This calendar year I have seen Sondheim in person celebrating Oscar Hammerstein, and his work in several form including Into the Woods revived in Central Park, and several performances of that revival chided in the newest Forbidden Broadway. Last year I was charmed by Sondheim’s music in the cabaret act of Elaine Stritch at the Carlyle, and in anticipation of the  Broadway revival of Follies while I loved the 2011 Chicago Follies production even more. Barbara Cook inspired me to muse about Sondheim inspired by 2010’s ondheim on Sondheim and a public 2008 master class she taught in Chicago. And the 2010 “replacement” cast of the recent Broadway revival of A Little Night Music welcomed me to my then-new Manhattan home. Sondheim himself or his work, performed or discussed, compels my attention.

In the context of these revivals and remembrances and appreciations, the current revival of 1980’s loosely-plotted cabaret assemblage Marry Me A Little provides a chance to listen to tunes from rarer vehicles (e.g. Evening Primrose and The Girls of Summer) and to tunes from familiar vehicles that were cut on the road (in this case Follies and A Little Night Music and Company offer especially charming pieces). This production offers two sporadically engaging performers and a delightful opportunity to hear unamplified human voices. What the production does not offer is substantive interpretations of the layered musical stories, nor does it completely overcome the forced conceit of two young adults in two different identical apartments choreographed in a single space. This conceit/strategy/dramatic choice was used in earlier productions of this show, and is currently seen on Broadway in the play Grace at the Cort Theatre.

Him (Jason Tam) — why not “He”? — and Her (Lauren Molina) — why not “She”? — live in Brooklyn, in the present, in a rambling, industrial-ish apartment building. Their independent lonely yearning 20-something characters deliver all too often tunes written for people who have experienced several more chapters —  e.g. “Boy, Can that boy Foxtrot” — more on this tune in a moment.  Their apartments on separate floors are overlaid on the stage — they dance around each other and interact directly only in their own imaginations before meeting in the revue’s final moments.  It’s a boy meets girl story, with a loosely constructed cabaret act in between.

Some tunes are quite competently sung yet almost all are presented with precisely the same sad sodden sentiment (regardless of the songwriter and lyricist’s intent in some cases) — I’m lonely and I don’t want to be.  At other times, the young performers make odd choices to convey the emotional core of a tune.  For example, Miss Molina’s airy soprano gives a muscular Broadway belt to the funny sardonic and wistful tune “Boy Can That Boy Foxtrot”, capturing none of the story.  Tam scores with the lovely tune “Ah but Underneath” and a few others, but is young and emotionally inexperienced at this point for the layers of the stories in these lyrics. Molina captures a few additional layers in her set of tunes and has a powerful stage presence, augmented from time to time with her cello-playing skills. Charming on stage piano accompaniment (again delightfully spare and unamplified) provided by musical director John  Bell, tucked into his own windowed apartment nook like the piano-playing courtyard neighbor in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 9, 2012)

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