Chicago Theatre Review
It Takes Two
Marry Me a Little – Porchlight Theatre
Two single young adults, a man, whose world sings with music, and a woman, for whom photography frames her life, both live in the same apartment building in a big city. They’re aware of each other’s existence, but have never actually met, until one night when the woman can no longer stand the noise coming from the flat above her. After pounding on her ceiling, the woman eventually climbs the stairs and knocks on the man’s door.
Unexpectedly, the two become fast friends. Eventually their companionship blossoms into love and marriage. But, like all good things, their relationship eventually starts to crumble and they split up…or do they? This sung-through musical ends much in the same way it began, with the woman standing outside the man’s door. Everything we’ve just experienced may have actually only been a dream or a fantasy. Or perhaps, as it has a way of doing, life is simply repeating itself.
Stephen Sondheim’s lovely little revue, comprised entirely out of songs cut from some of the composer’s best-known, full-length musical comedies, was the brainchild of actor/director, Craig Lucas and film director, Norman Renee. In 1980, this dialogue-free 75-minute one act musical was first staged Off-Off-Broadway, enjoying a two-month run. The following Spring the show moved to an Off-Broadway theatre, where it had more success. This show, which has been performed all over the world, usually features a traditional male and female duo, but has also been presented using a same sex couple, a pair of gender-neutral actors and sometimes two men and two women, for unlimited romantic combinations. Sondheim has even granted permission for theatre companies to change up the songs and to include additional music cut from some of his other productions.
In Porchlight’s exquisite little jewel of a production, talented Chicago director Jess MacLeod has collaborated with musical director Austin Cook to create a brand-new, original version of this piece. Together these two creatives, working side-by-side with artistic direction Michael Weber, have sometimes reordered the songs from the original production. At other times, they’ve eliminated a few of the tunes; most of the time, however, MacLeod and Cook have selected, with Sondheim’s blessing, some additional music.
Then Cook completely re-orchestrated the score, which is usually reserved for one or, perhaps, two pianos. Now the production is accompanied by an additional piano, cello, flute, clarinet and percussion, all tucked away in a tiny balcony above the stage. Audiences can see the four musicians, under the directorship of conductor Charlotte Rivard-Hoster, through the apartment windows. Austin Cook, who plays the Man in this production, also happens to be a fierce pianist. He ordered a baby grand to also be on stage, so that he could accompany Bethany Thomas, his brilliant costar, and himself, from time to time.
Despite there being no spoken dialogue, Sondheim’s beautiful songs become conversation or monologues. They include musical moments cut from “Follies,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “A Little Night Music,” “Into the Woods,” “Merrily We Roll Along, “Company,” Saturday Night” and “Road Show.” There are even two lovely songs from Sondheim’s televised musical, “Evening Primrose.” The title song, which had been cut from “Company” has now, because of it’s popularity, found its way back into the musical.
Some of finest moments in this production come from Ms. Thomas and Mr. Cook’s terrific characterizations, as their gorgeous voices paint a musical portrait of who they are, both individually and together. The lyrics take on special meaning in this context, and the melodies are sublime. Bethany Thomas shines with “The Girls of Summer,” “Can That Boy Foxtrot,” “I Remember Sky” and “Happily Ever After.” Austin Cook hits it out of the park with “Make the Most of Your Music,” “That Old Piano Roll,” “What More Do I Need,” “If You Can Find Me, I’m Here” and “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Has Happened.”
Together this gifted duo elevate with brilliance such songs as “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “A Moment With You” and the haunting, “Marry Me a Little.” Through its sensitive, economical lyrics and gorgeous melodies this one-act revue, superbly directed by Jess MacLeod, truly evolves into a sung-through musical that ranks with any of Sondheim’s other works.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 14-May 21 by Porchlight Music Theatre at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling them at 773-327-5252 or by going to www.PorchlightMusicTheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.