“ MARRY ME A LITTLE ” at the North Coast Repertory Theatre & “ BLITHE SPIRITS ” at the San Diego State University
KPBS AIRDATE: November 19, 1997
The holiday season can be pretty hard on relationships — even if you’re not in one. Two musicals –”Marry Me a Little” and “High Spirits” — paint a less than rosy picture of the mating game: whether you’re home alone on a Saturday night or haunted by your two dead wives.
“Marry Me a Little” is a bittersweet, single person’s lament, with music by the often-cynical Stephen Sondheim. More a review than a show, this two-person, dialogue-less evening consists of 17 often clever numbers, written by the often brilliant composer/lyricist during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ’70s. Either the songs were cut from their intended shows, or the shows themselves never got off the ground. Sondheim remainders, in other words. Unless you’ve got two dynamos at the helm, the show’s conceit, by Craig Lucas and Norman René, is pretty hard to pull off.
Here’s the premise: A man and a woman live in the same brownstone apartment building in New York City; she’s in 2C and he’s in 3C. They’re both home on a Saturday night, but they never meet and they never talk. They just sing songs, or enter into unwitting duets, about lost love or no love or hopes for love in a cold, cruel world.
SONG: “A Moment With You”
At North Coast Repertory Theatre, the stars of the show are the set, which manages to be both apartments at once, and the direction, which deftly conducts the duo in and out of the same living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath, without ever crashing into each other. Very canny. But it takes a super-agile singer to master the linguistic and vocal acrobatics required of Sondheim’s machine-gun lyrics and atonal melodies. And it takes charismatic performers to put over a two-person, non-interactive play. Unfortunately, neither Sandy Campbell nor Jeffrey Duncan is sufficiently up to the task. Kudos to director Daniel Yurgaitis and designer Marty Burnett. But overall, just like spending date-night solo, it’s a pretty unsatisfying evening.
Down at San Diego State, with nearly two dozen in the orchestra pit and an equal number onstage, the Drama Department is doing everything it can to please. This is Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray’s “High Spirits,” based on the hilarious 1941 Noel Coward farce, “Blithe Spirit.” The musical is a silly, sarcastic, witty, metaphysical and decidedly retro sendup of English society, set in London, 1960. In this production, the set changes are overly fussy, and the acting is underdeveloped: The first wife isn’t sexy enough, the second wife isn’t shrewish enough, and the small Medium isn’t funny enough. But the singing is generally high quality, the dancing is fine, the set is lovely, the costumes are classy, and the energy is good, though these kids seem lost in the beatnik milieu. What’s most impressive — besides the Flying by Foy — is that this production is part of a salute to composer Hugh Martin, a local resident, who will appear for a tribute and symposium on Saturday — an overdue celebration of a true theatrical talent — one you’ll remember from his most famous seasonal song:
[Out With: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.