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Glenda Frank

Marry Me A Little

"Marry Me A Little"
A Stephen Sondheim song cycle
A dapted and directed by Jonathan Silverstein
Produced by Keen Company
Harold Clurman Theater,
410 West 42nd Street, NYC.
Oct. 2 - 27, 2012.
Tues. at 7 PM; Wed.-Sat. 8 PM; Wed. and Sat. at 2 PM; Sun. at 3 PM..
Tickets $69.25. For tickets: (212) 239-6200, telecharge.com.

What I love most about Sondheim are the surprises -- in the music, in the lyrics, in the out-of-the-box attitude that inserts a touch of something real -- of doubt, reluctance, honesty, even cynicism in the face of convention. After all Stephen Sondheim brought us “Sweeney Todd,” “Passion” and “Assassins.” So I was looking forward to “Marry Me a Little” at the Clurman Theatre, a 1980 compilation by playwright Craig Lucas and director Norman René, which has been adapted and directed by Jonathan Silverstein, the Artistic Director of Keen Company. But instead of the usual Sondheim tang, the show about two singles in Brooklyn was almost cloying -- and worse, predictable. Many people in the audience applauded with gusto and left the theatre happy. I caught a quick subway so I could play a little Sondheim to hear again his unique voice.

The plot is simple, skimpy, and generic. Guy and gal move into a new building. They are unpacking; they are lonely; it’s Saturday night; they have been hurt before by love. The plot needs some edge. The staging is clever, however. Although they live on different floors, the action unfolds in a single studio apartment (set by Steven C. Kemp). It's interesting when they cross the same kitchen in different directions oblivious to each other, use the same bathroom (He is buckling up when she rushes in, a newly purchased roll of toilet paper in hand.), even lie down on different sides of the same bed. Later when she plays the cello, he bangs on the ceiling with a broom handle.

The songs were mostly Sondheim rejects, the ones that didn’t make the cut into major shows. Some were suggestive. "Can That Boy Foxtrot!" (from “Follies”) is filled with double-entendres and for “Bring on the Girls” Jason Tam’s character was cruising pornography sites on the Internet. Some seemed like fillers. The evening ended on a high notes with Lauren Molina's wonderful rendition of the delicious "Marry Me a Little" and Jason Tam following it with a nicely realized "Happily Ever After," both of which had been cut from "Company."

Some of the problem lay with the casting. While Lauren Molina was a brilliant choice, Jason Tam, her partner in longing and love, would have been fine in a well-plotted musical. He is gorgeous to look at -- he kept removing his shirt as did she -- but here, with the full dramatic weight on his shoulder, he proved to be a bland, play-it-as-written singer despite his improvisational gestures. Molina, who was the cello-playing Johanna in the 2005 Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd,” knows how to fill a line with nuance and tone. She delights the ear and makes you care. John Bell on the piano was brilliant and sometimes surprising, which is always a treat. But someone needed to stand in the back of the theatre and listen. At times the music drowned Molina out, and at least one arrangements could have been better tailored to her considerable talent. Unlike most musicals, the show was not miked, a rare treat -- but there are down sides.

The highlights of the revue were the duets. For brief moments the young people came together either in overlapping lyrics ( "A Moment With You," cut from "Saturday Night") or as lovers -- and the stage lit up. That should have been a clue to the director that so much more was possible. In their one love scene, the actors shared a little choreography (by Dan Knechtgesand) and lots of heat as they sang "Bang," which was cut from "A Little Night Music." They probably would have made a good couple, but alone they were open to comparison and other non-romantic musings.

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