NEW YORK—Not only is the score the star in the intimate musical “Marry Me A Little” currently being presented by the Keen Company on Theatre Row, it also carries the plot.
With no book to speak of and only one line of dialogue, the piece consists entirely of songs by composer Steven Sondheim, with the premise that all the tunes used were originally cut from other Sondheim works.
In fact, this production was the first time anyone ever had the chance to hear many of the show’s songs when the it debuted in 1980.
This is not to say the musical doesn’t have a specific narrative structure. “Marry Me A Little,” conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman René, has been shaped in terms of creative vision and dramatic effect. The result is an interesting and very enjoyable two-character tale about love, longing, loss, and the universal need to be with that special someone.
The story takes place in an apartment building in Brooklyn, New York on a Saturday night. The two characters, both 20-somethings, are known as Him (Jason Tam) and Her (Lauren Molina).
These two people are living in identical apartments, one right below the other. She plays the cello and he’s a struggling poet. Each have just entered their respective homes and are facing the sad reality of spending another Saturday night “alone with the Sunday Times.”
Over the course of the evening and into the next morning, the two, both individually and together, sing about past love affairs that went wrong or current ones that aren’t working. They also fantasize about their perfect mates while wondering if they will ever be lucky enough to find them.
The creative team has done a good job with the overall premise. Director Jonathan Silverstein and choreographer Dan Knechtges stage the work quite nicely and make full use of the playing area, showing the two performers almost—but not quite—interacting with one another numerous times.
In other moments Tam and Molina play off each other in fantasy sequences via a blend of romance and passion.
Where the tale really comes together are in the lyrics; the tunes are arranged so they tell a full and complete story, while making both Molina’s and Tam’s character feel fully real. Both actors give very strong performances and also have a wonderful chemistry together.
Singing-wise however, there is a bit of an imbalance. Molina is the stronger of the two vocally, beautifully putting over the torch song “Boy, Can That Boy Foxtrot,” as well as the bluesy “Who Could Be Blue.”
She also does a great job showing the emotional angst and emptiness her character feels while delivering the title tune.
Tam does fine with his own musical chores, especially in the biting “Happily Ever After” and “Bring on the Girls.” (The latter has something to do with looking at fantasy girls on the Internet.)
However, he’s overshadowed by Molina whenever the two are singing together. It would also have helped immeasurably if the two were miked for the performance. Some of their vocal delivery get either lost in the playing space or more seriously, drowned out by the onstage piano playing of John Bell, who also serves at the show’s musical director.
One of the great treats of the evening is hearing the rather complex lyrics by Sondheim, which fit perfectly into the story, even though they were originally intended for other works.
In a few cases, just the sections that make the needed narrative point are used, not the entire song.
Since “Marry Me A Little” first premiered, several of its songs have been restored to their original place in the Sondheim canon (the title tune among them, which was originally cut from “Company.”)
For this production, “new” cut Sondheim songs have been added to help fill out the work.
Steven C. Kemp’s apartment set is nicely filled with details, giving it a lived-in look and making it just the kind of the place struggling people would actually own.
The show has also been updated a bit, with laptop computers and texting incorporated into the story.
The costumes by Jennifer Parr are appropriately casual.
Unfortunately, the sound design by Colin Whitely and other musical presentation issues leave something to be desired.
While not a perfect production, “Marry Me A Little” is both wonderful to hear and enjoyable to watch. For the serious musical theater lover, this show is a must-see.
For those somewhat less obsessed, the piece offers a beautiful look at two people just trying to find that one person they’re meant to be with—a person, perhaps, not yet met or one who might be closer than imagined.
‘Marry Me A Little’
The Clurman Theatre
Theatre Row Studios
410 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Closes: Oct. 27
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.
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