BWW Review: A Musical Revue of Sondheim Rejects at New Repertory Theatre
Marry Me a Little
Songs by Stephen Sondheim, Conceived and Developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene, Directed and Choreographed by Ilyse Robbins, Musical Direction by David McGrory; Erik Diaz, Scenic Designer; Rafael Jaen, Costume Designer; Christopher Ostrom, Lighting Designer; David Reiffel, Sound Designer; Joe Stalone, Properties Designer; Meghan Fisher, Production Stage Manager
Stephen Sondheim rejects. That is the concept and content of Marry Me a Little, an easy to take musical revue at New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown. By definition, not all of the songs are keepers, having been cut from well-known Sondheim shows or derived from never-produced works, but they are all worth hearing as sung by the talented quartet of Aimee Doherty, Brad Daniel Peloquin, Erica Spyres, and Phil Tayler. Director/choreographer Ilyse Robbins overlays a warm, gentle touch to a collection of decidedly bittersweet tunes, showing empathy with these lonely New York singles in their isolation and fear of commitment.
Scenic Designer Erik Diaz gives the slim characterizations a boost with his two-story set, showing four small apartments in a dollhouse-like configuration. Man 1 (Tayler) and Woman 1 (Spyres) share a common wall on the first floor, and Man 2 (Peloquin) and Woman 2 (Doherty) live across the hall from each other upstairs. The small space for skateboard-toting Man 1 is a tiny crash pad with clothes strewn about, a mattress on the floor, and a mini-fridge filled with St. Pauli Girl, a world away from the glass and chrome-decorated contemporary unit for urbane Man 2. A brass bed with polka dot sheets and a Teddy bear is the focal point in Woman 1's studio, as compared to Woman 2's fully-stocked kitchen and wine rack on the upper level.
Robbins and her cast are not hampered by the lack of a book as Sondheim's lyrics provide their own narrative and all of the singers convincingly act the stories inherent in their songs. Despite their eclectic outward appearances - from Doherty's jaded and disappointed dame to the sunnier, spirited Spyres, and from Peloquin's sexual preference-questioning neatnik to Tayler's energetic romantic - they share a common longing for connection and maintain the hope that either they'll find it someday, or maybe they're better off without it.
Musical Director David McGrory and New Rep regular Todd C. Gordon share accompaniment duties, flanking the stage on dual upright pianos. On a number of selections, Spyres complements their sound and adds a layer of feeling with her plaintive violin-playing. However, the vocalists bear most of the responsibility for conveying the sentiments in Sondheim's laden songs and bring it every time. Doherty finds the right mix of sexy and comic antics in "Uptown/Downtown," and powerfully conjures up the brass of distant horns in "There Won't Be Trumpets," cut from 1964's short-lived Anyone Can Whistle. Peloquin's lilting tenor evokes the loneliness of a Saturday night with a takeout dinner and the resignation as a romance ends ("It Wasn't Meant to Happen" - Follies). Spyres is equally convincing as a believer in "Two Fairy Tales" and as one of the sultry "Girls of Summer," wrapping her crystalline soprano voice around the maestro's challenging notes. Tayler's emotional range is impressive as he embraces the beer-swigging athleticism and the sweetly vulnerable romantic side of his character.
Other than Doherty's two solos, most of the songs are sung as duets, and New Rep is the first "Sondheim-sanctioned, gender-inclusive production," according to press materials, which allows Robbins to experiment with the coupling. She mixes up the courtship possibilities, pairing man/woman, woman/woman, and man/man, offering the audience a new take on some old situations. However, everyone stays in their own corner, for the most part, so you don't get a sense of attraction between the couples as much as a feeling of them fantasizing about a faceless someone...anyone. Robbins chooses to bring together the whole company in back to back songs, the title tune "Marry Me a Little," followed by "Happily Ever After." Both were jettisoned from the final slot in Company before Sondheim came up with the less cynical "Being Alive."
Lighting Designer Christopher Ostrom performs a delicate juggling act to keep the audience's attention on the proper segment of the set at the right time. Even when not singing, the actors remain involved with some activity, so require enough illumination to be seen, but not enough to distract from the main event. David Reiffel is the Sound Designer who guarantees that the vocals are loud and clear. Costume Designer Rafael Jaen helps to define the characters' personalities, with the style of their attire matching the nature of their surroundings. Joe Stalone does a good job of following suit with his properties design. For example, Man 1 drinks his beer straight out of the bottle, while Man 2 pours his whiskey from a decanter into a glass tumbler.
Robbins also wears her choreographer's hat (shoes?) for the show. There is a lot of rhythmic moving individually and with props, but only a modicum of formal dancing. Peloquin and Doherty (in a floor-length Alice Blue Gown) trip the light fantastic together downstage for a few bars during "A Moment With You," and Peloquin anthropomorphizes his topcoat in "Can That Boy Foxtrot." Wearing both of her hats, Robbins keeps the show moving along at a comfortable clip (Marry Me a Little runs about 75 minutes without intermission) and does not allow any of the actors to be static for long. Perhaps the greatest achievement of director and company is that they have created something both genuine and entertaining from this little bagatelle of poignant rejects.