What’s not to like about an evening of lesser known Stephen Sondheim songs?
Although the 1980 musical revue Marry Me a Little, conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Rae, is certainly historically noteworthy for exposing musical theatre aficionados to nearly twenty of the venerable composer’s ‘trunk songs,’ as currently presented at Creative Cauldron, its purpose is slightly more multi-faceted.
With direction from accomplished local composer, actor, and sometimes-director Matt Conner, this production of this little show has a bit of twist. This well-constructed off-off Broadway musical usually considers the plight of two average, lonely, single people (Dani Stoller and Lou Steele) at home in their separate apartments one evening. They ponder the emotional pitfalls of romantic relationships and commitments strictly through well-placed and selected songs, finding each other in their fantasies.
The Creative Cauldron production does this, but also at the same time, is presented as a memory play. Talented pianist Amy Conley, an older version of the nameless “Her” that Stoller plays, recalls the solitude she felt in an earlier time in her life as she plays the music and occasionally – to some comedic effect – takes a sip of wine. It’s not so radically different of a choice that it could be considered groundbreaking, but it does add an interesting element to the proceedings.
To be sure though, the music, rather than a story in and of itself, is what drives the play. Today, thanks to the plethora of Sondheim-focused cabarets and revues, many of the songs in the show may not be entirely new to even the younger musical-obsessed crowd like they were in 1980. However, thanks to the level of sophistication apparent in every measure of nearly every Sondheim song, it’s always possible to find something new in each song even if one has heard it several times before.
Given the importance of the music in telling the story, the two actors need to be equipped to express all through song. Here at Creative Cauldron, Stoller and Steele are largely up to the task.
Although less than an hour in length, the two actors are required to expend copious amounts of emotional energy as they interpret lyrics that, likewise, run the emotional gamut. Bitterness and anger, sadness, fear, elation, and anticipation – those feelings and many more are present in one or more of the songs and Stoller and Steele deal with all of them quite well. Vocally, Stoller and, to a lesser extent, Steele, ran into a few pitch problems here and there at the performance I attended (though I am confident these will likely be worked out as the run progresses), but mostly have the vocal talent to pull off a range of musical styles in a convincing way.
Stoller is at her best with the darkly comedic numbers that require her to belt and exercise her physical comedy skills. “Can That Boy Foxtrot” (cut from Follies) proves to be the most memorable in this regard. While Stoller is generally slightly less interesting to watch and listen to with the quieter, more wistful numbers (her part in “Two Fairy Tales,” cut from A Little Night Music, for example), I do have to say that I appreciated the range of dynamics she employed in her rendition of “There Won’t be Trumpets” (cut from Anyone Can Whistle). She resists any temptation to full out belt the whole song – as some are prone to do – and delivers an honest and realistic interpretation of the song as sung by someone dealing with profound emotional heartache.
Steele, a newcomer to the DC theatre scene, has a beautifully trained, Broadway-ready voice that would be a tremendous asset to any theatre company in the area that produces musicals (hint, hint). Nearly every number he’s assigned is well-sung, but one selection impressed me the most. “So Many People” (from the lesser known Saturday Night) may be one of Sondheim’s ‘trunk songs’ that’s comparatively well known today thanks to it being included in numerous cabarets and concerts. Therefore, it may not be as ‘new’ or interesting to musical theatre aficionados attending Marry Me a Little in the 21st century as it was over thirty years ago. However, his rendition of this particular song – a longtime favorite of mine – is a highlight not only for his display of strong and technically proficient vocals, but his not-too- sappy interpretation of the lyrics. He achieves a very commendable balance of solid vocals and acting.
Marry Me a Little
Closes October 25, 2013
Creative Cauldron at
ArtSpace Falls Church
410 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA
1 hour, no intermission
Fridays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
“Bang” (cut from A Little Night Music), a tongue-in-cheek yet largely relatable commentary on the more aggravating moments in a romantic journey, may only feature a minimal vocal contribution from Stoller, but both actors are essential to putting the song over thanks to their well-matched physical comedy skills. Conner’s staging – which highlights the struggle between the two – also makes this moment in the production most entertaining. Likewise, the argument-filled “Pour le Sport” (perhaps the least known song in the production, from the unproduced musical The Last Resorts), which features more of the everyday obstacles a couple might encounter, proves memorable thanks to the actors’ believability.
While the Creative Cauldron production is largely cerebral (much like the musical itself) and never rises to the point of being so exciting that one can’t help to glue their eyes to the performers, it’s a successful one that should be seen. Solid set designs and costumes (Margie Jervis) and adequate lighting (Ken Willis) help create an intimate and homey atmosphere in which the story can unfold. The contents of “Her” and “His” apartments, as well as the clothing choices, do well to give us some insight on each character (how they perceive themselves and their state at the moment) without making each so specific that the audience members struggle to see themselves or someone they know in the situations each ponders.
The mostly solid singing and delightful songs mixed with the professional production elements make this production an enjoyable way to spend an evening.
Marry Me a Little songs by Stephen Sondheim . Conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene . Directed by Matt Conner . FeaturingLou Steele, Dani Stoller and Amy Conley (pianist/music director) . Scenic and costume design: Margie Jervis . Lighting design: Ken Wills . Produced by Creative Cauldron . Reviewed by Jennifer Perry.