2/5/2023 MARRY ME A LITTLE Merely Players Presents
A LITTLE GIANT
Everything about Marry Me a Little seems small.
Originally produced Off-Off-Broadway in 1980 at a small-small-venue, it has been revived and revamped often since then. It is a small cast (two) on a (preferably) small set – a single apartment shared by two people who may (or may not) be occupying the same space. It is a small band – usually just an accompanist – and takes up a small amount of time (75 minutes give or take). And it is filled with “small” songs – a couple lesser known Sondheim songs and a LOT of “Lesser Unknown” Sondheim songs, those cut or rewritten for his biggest small hits. You can often hear echoes of his more familiar songs in some of these “first draft” numbers. And Merely Players Presents has staged it in their small space with two oversized talents in the leads.
Before going on, I do have to acknowledge that Bradley T. Johnson (“Him”) was obviously suffering from end-of-long week voice strain and delivered most of his songs in a hoarse whisper. And yet, once I was accustomed to the sound, it grew on me, adding to the intimacy of the piece, driving into overdrive my normal “Lean in and Engage” approach to theatre-experiencing. His partner in rhyme, Caroline Kirk (“Her”) showed a contrasting range of pitch and volume, yet still managed to blend her voice almost perfectly with Mr. Johnson.
In essence, this is a revue – there is no dialogue – with any story arising from the songs themselves. And this is key to my main take-away here – despite the “small” nature of this piece, it proves decisively that Mr. Sondheim was a giant of a talent, able to infuse (literally) everything he wrote with character and story.
To recap, “Him” and “Her” are neighbors, lonely New Yorkers picking up the pieces of their lives after harsh ends to separate relationships. They know of each other from seeing each other in that “Window Across the Way” (a song cut from Forum), but have never actually met, opening subway near-miss notwithstanding. Throughout a long stormy night, they imagine themselves in a relationship, or imagine each other as their former partners, and come sooooo clooooose to actually finding happiness, it is almost painful in its romantic anticipation.
It is a testament to the show that it has been performed with a same sex couple, with two couples, and even in a three-version repertory (two men, two women, man and woman), and it works no matter how its characters gender-identify. Emotion is Emotion, Romance is Romance, Sex is Sex! These songs ALL drive home that message and do it with flair, wit, drama, and elegance. The show has even been able to sustain an interpretation in which they are actually roommates and NOT in separate apartments. (For the record, they are definitely in separate spaces here.)
Some of these numbers are eminently memorable/forgettable, justifiably/regrettably upgraded for their show’s “Final Drafts.” Yet all are gems in their own way, filled to bursting with that Sondheimian ambivalence we have learned/tolerated to love/hate and forget/can’t-get-out-of-my-head. Especially characteristic is a duet, “Two Fairy Tales” (cut from A Little Night Music*) in which they tell two contrasting fairy tales – one grim, one happy, sung in clever counterpoint and ending on a near perfect sentiment. “Can That Boy Foxtrot” (cut from Follies) is a silly double-entendre wallow made even more pointed by the decision to have “Her” sing it fondling aggressively phallic groceries.
For those with a “Behind the Scenes” mindset, the inclusion of both “Marry Me a Little” and “Happily Ever After” are a nice “analysis” of the evolution of “Being Alive” (Company) – they are early versions that underscore that confused longing/fear of commitment – “Happily Ever After” even has lyrics that eventually fill “Being Alive” – and put them back-to-back, one sung by “Him” one by “Her.” Both are decent songs, and, in fact, “Marry Me a Little” has been re-added to the Company licensed version as an Act I finale.
Director Scott Rousseau and Music Director (and accompanist) Nate Newton have delivered a wonderful little show, a production that reflects their love and respect for the genius of Stephen Sondheim. And this is definitely a production to delight the most rabid Sondheim fan. If you have heard the album of the original Off-Off-Broadway cast, be prepared for a few newer songs reflecting revisions and updates since 1980. How it goes over for those cool to Sondheim I am singularly unqualified to judge. It is a charming little revue, a production that proves that even the smallest of Sondheim songs is still a sketched-in-music portrait of a giant.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #MerelyPlayersPresents #MarryMeALittle)
* For the record, A Little Night Music was my very first Broadway musical, seen in December 1973 with its original cast intact. I still have the program (both Playbill and then-affordable souvenir program).