Produced by: TheatreWorks
Featuring: Sharon Reitkerk, A.J. Shively
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Orchestra: William Liberatore, piano
Creative team: Set design by Bruce McLeod, lighting design by Steven B. Mannshardt, costume design by Jill Bowers, sound design by Brendan Aanes
When: June 4-29, 2014
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, California
Tickets:$19-$73 (discounta available). Visit TheatreWorks.org or call 650-463-1960.
"Marry Me a Little," as staged by TheatreWorks, is a lovely, charming, sweet, polished jewel of a show that demonstrates what this fine company can do by bringing together a matchless creative team.
Walking in, the audience is greeted by Bruce McLeod's beautiful set, that creates a San Francisco apartment house and that city's iconic skyline. McLeod, who teaches and directs at Foothill Music Theatre, has been with TheatreWorks, off and on, for 40 years. In 1974, he and founder Robert Kelley were the only paid employees. This set is the most beautiful of his work I have seen.
The show starts with TheatreWorks' resident musical genius, William Liberatore, playing piano in a scrimmed apartment at stage left. Liberatore doesn't stop playing till the audience is leaving the auditorium, more than 90 minutes later, with only a few bars rest here and there. In the program, under "THE ORCHESTRA," Liberatore, at piano, is the only listing.
The action starts with A.J. Shively riding a bicycle down the audience right aisle, saying "Hey, Bill!" as he passes Liberatore. He enters the apartment building at stage right.
Then Sharon Rietkerk enters, hurrying down the audience left aisle, and enters her apartment.
And the cleverness gets even more charming, and fun.
It's likely some in the audience will be confused, but pay attention, and they'll get it quickly enough: There is only one apartment set, but it serves both actors: Shively, as Him, has the upstairs apartment, and enters first, where he is frustrated by his bedside lamp that won't light. Rietkerk enters second, as Her, and throws away the lamp, replacing it with a new one.
The singing starts with "Saturday Night," with the two bemoaning spending their nights in, alone. She has a solo with "Can That Boy Foxtrot!" which is hilarious and sexy. There are 19 songs in all, in this mostly fast-paced show, but the one that stuck with me as I walked out of the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts was "Marry Me a Little."
The choreography and blocking and performance of all this is bravura and amusing stuff. Every once in a while we are giving a reminder that the two young people are in different apartments: She bangs a broom on the ceiling when he makes too much noise. She looks across at something in the street, when he has to look down at it.
But as the show continues, this conceit allows for a touching bringing to life of the songs, including when the two dance a sweet pas de deux, when we understand that they are each just enjoying a fantasy, and neither of them are actually there to the other.
Both performers sing, dance and act beautifully. There are many funny moments worked in to this show, and Rietkerk and Shively both deliver.
As the show proceeds, Steven B. Mannshardt's brilliant lighting scheme makes McLeod's set even more beautiful, as a sky full of stars and a bright moon shine over the San Francisco skyline.
And ya know ... the show's most amazing bit of magic may be in how it finds sweetness and hope in the music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim is genius, we know this. His music is astounding. He brought musical constructions that surprised everyone and earned the respect of musicians everywhere.
But his lyrics about romance tend toward the cynical and the bitter, and it's hard to find hope in them.
But, the conceivers of this show, Craig Lucas and Norman René, who took a bunch of Sondheim tunes from a bunch of his musicals, have found a way to make it palatable. Sweet and charming, even, to repeat myself.
In his notes for the program, Kelley says "'I hate Sondheim!' That's what I said, back in the '70s. I'd just seen his musical 'Company' for the first time. It was cynical, ironic, its characters aloof, and its music strange. So how did I come to love his work, to create 18 productions of his shows, and to consider him the greatest music theatre artist of our time?"
Well, go to the show, get the program, read that essay for yourself. He explains it quite well.
In the meantime, hats off to the brilliant Kelley for the fine job he has done here, marshalling TheatreWorks' considerable forces and finding the ways to squeeze every bit of possible charm and sweetness from Sondheim's tunes for this show. The details of the set and props are wonderful and fun. Go see for yourself.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org