It would be a departure from the norm if two people were to stand (or sit, or kneel, or assume whatever suitable posture) in a place of worship or registry office and marry ‘a little’ – pledging not to go ‘too deep’ or ‘too far’, whilst maintaining their existing circles of friends, acquaintances, hobbies and interests. It would make a change from the traditional, “I plight thee my troth”, or the more contemporary, “All that I am, I give to you”. But the trouble is, as theatre patrons familiar with Stephen Sondheim’s Marry Me A Little will know, is that in the particular instance of the (not very) imaginatively named Woman (Stephanie Schmalzle) and Man (Keith Merrill), marrying either a little or a lot isn’t necessarily set in stone.
It is, as the programme tells the audience, about two New York City singletons who live “in studio apartments one above the other”, but here, they are portrayed as living adjacent to one another instead. It still works, even if the show’s construction is somewhat odd: the musical numbers are, as any Sondheim enthusiast will tell you, comprised of off-cuts – that is, songs that were supposed to have featured in other musicals but were cut at some point in the development process. But if these songs weren’t good enough for those other shows, why would they be good enough for this one?
In one or two cases, I’m sad to report, they aren’t. The songs are very much like many of Sondheim’s other works – very wordy in parts, and the sort of musical numbers that drive forward the narrative, sometimes at quite a pace. But I never quite followed by anyone would “spend another Saturday night alone with the Sunday Times” (surely a portion of Saturday would be spent reading a Saturday paper, no?) and it took a while, not having seen a production of Marry Me A Little before, for me to realise that this show is best appreciated as a song cycle rather than a musical.
The show would have benefited from having some spoken dialogue to break up the pattern of song after song after song. The only spoken word comes from some television advertisements from the period – which doesn’t quite do the trick. Not being known as anything other than a woman and a man doesn’t help either, but both actors do very well with what they are given.
It is possible, I suppose, to present the show with hardly any set at all, given the detailed content of some of the lyrics. No expense is spared here, with a kitchen area, a typewriter, a vinyl record player, the aforementioned television, and one of those rotary dial telephones with a finger wheel. The musical’s journey becomes more absorbing as it goes on, and just at the moment when I thought it was just starting to drag just a tiny bit, the show abruptly draws to a close, its narrative complete.
There’s some fun to be had, too, in working out which songs were cut from which other musical – some are more obvious than others, and some (at least for me) not obvious at all. Credit should also be given to Jonathan Musgrave, at the keyboards, knocking out Sondheim melodies with every note perfectly placed. The tunes may not be particularly hummable, but in the end, short and bittersweet as it is, this is a charming and convincing production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Two single strangers, left alone in their studio apartments on a Saturday night, pass their time with sweetly secret, unshared fantasies, never knowing that they’re just a floor away from each other and the end of their lonely dreams.
Together they breathe new theatrical life and meaning into a collection of trunk songs that were culled from the final productions of Anyone Can Whistle, Follies, Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and A Little Night Music.
A smart, funny, sophisticated and moving evening, and a fascinating look at “the songs that got away.”
Marry Me a Little
Songs by STEPHEN SONDHEIM
Conceived & Developed by CRAIG LUCAS & NORMAN RENÉ
Produced Off-Broadway by Diane de Mailly in association with William B. Young. Originally Produced by The Production Company
Performed by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe) Limited
Man: Keith Merrill
Woman: Stephanie Schmalzle
Creatives: Stage and music direction and design: Alisdair Kitchen
Marry Me a Little
8th to 26th May 2018