REVIEW WRITTEN BY DANGE J. J. BEVILACQUA
For Digital First Media
In 1980, recognizing that Stephen Sondheim’s least-known songs deserved a showcase, Craig Lucas and Norman René organized some of his outtakes into a musical about two lonely New Yorkers on a Saturday night.
No mistake about it, “Marry Me a Little” is a highly specialized item. A collection of songs that never made it into the various musicals for which they were written, this two-performer piece hovers uncertainly between a concert recital and a staged work.
The narrative is vague, detailing the relationship between a man and a woman. The two characters exist within one space, their stories overlapping as they drift in and out of each other’s lives.
For Sondheim fans, it’s of unquestionable interest: a rare opportunity to hear material that would never be performed in any other context. The songs were written for such Broadway legends as “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” but were cut because they couldn’t be fit into the staging logistics, dramatic development or overall vision of the shows.
A recital of rejected songs unconnected by dialogue hardly sounds appealing; there isn’t a word of spoken dialogue in this chamber musical. It relies on 22 Sondheim songs to stitch together a story of commitment wary but eager for love New Yorkers.
It’s a very slender branch on which to hang a show. But the leaves are songs by Stephen Sondheim and the roots are anchored in the longing for love, so what can be bad?
Charming but slight, it’s really more of a revue than a musical, and there are times when you long to hear the songs set in a deeper context.
Songs from the original show have been rearranged and shaped in terms of creative vision and dramatic effect by director Stephen Casey. The result is a 90-minute song fest that floats along with the expert piano accompaniment of Michele Ferdinand. Her rendering of these Sondheim gems is just beautiful.
Mr. Casey nicely tweaks the original concept by allowing the actors to be aware and interact; keeping them close and apart simultaneously; giving us a glimpse into their state of their mind, which seems ruefully hopeful.
Romance is the throughline in these Sondheim’s songs, and no one charts the path from ecstasy to regret with as much nuance.
Though the songs are arranged in a vaguely conceivable chronological order, the characters (simply called man and woman) are unknown and dramatic logic missing. Not every song is a perfect fit for the concept, nor are they all ideally suited to the performers. However, the intimacy of the piece is well–suited to the diminutively proportioned Montgomery Theater Stage.
For less than die-hard Sondheim enthusiasts, the appeal may be limited by the lack of a proper context. No one will claim that this is a great Sondheim musical. While many songs are witty like “Uptown Downtown” or delicate like the title song, there are others that Sondheim was right to reject.
The staging here is strictly nondescript. The contents of “Her” and “His” apartments, as well as the clothing choices, give us little insight on each character. Their personal belongings are in three small cardboard boxes. He wears a jogging suit and she is in pajama bottoms. The apartment is bare without a single personal effect.
Making every song a duet, virtual or actual, has other downsides. Some songs get sung in counterpoint before having a chance to establish themselves in their own right; “Who Could Be Blue,” another cut treasure from Follies and a melody whose simplicity and serenity are worthy of Jerome Kern, is especially shortchanged.
But we get to hear a lot of lovely music; my favorite being the delicate “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” yet another cut-out from Follies.
Neither singer has a robust voice, but Peter Carrier performs with confidence, easily projecting ambivalence, yearning or any emotion called for.
In the role of the unnamed woman, Kim Carson offers a fine degree of emotional sincerity but her singing is strained. Her vocals are at a high pitch, one note away from a screech. There are two songs where she drops an octave and the results are pleasing to the ear.
No living Broadway composer’s gifts have been more celebrated than Mr. Sondheim’s. The composer’s 80th birthday a few years ago prompted a flood of Sondheim productions around the country, and I hope, a wider awareness that if you’re ranking the greatest artists of the last half-century, Stephen Sondheim is on the very short list. It would do well to remember that Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn’t write the lyrics.
This enchanting 90-minute show is an experience to be treasured by those who can never get enough of Sondheim’s beautiful melodies, deep human insight and diamond-sharp wit.
IF YOU GO
What: “Marry Me A Little”
Where: Montgomery Theater, 124 N. Main St., Souderton.
When: Now through May 3.
Tickets: $24 – $35.
Info.: Call (215) 723-9984 or visit montgomerytheater.org.