It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since our production of the Craig Lucas and Norman René-conceived Stephen Sondheim revue, Marry Me a Little, at the Intimate Theatre, in which I played the “Man” and which was directed by one of my best friends and a great colleague, Jacqui Kowen. Thinking back to that wonderful experience, I wish it could have been more extended. The great thing about Sondheim’s material is that you never seem to stop discovering new layers within the pieces as you go along and I found that this accelerated tremendously as the run continued. Even today, I’m still finding answers for things that perhaps didn’t work perfectly.
I really enjoyed performing the show, which nonetheless has some problems in the way that it’s structured: “Uptown Downtown” just seems squeezed in for the sake of it (although I think I might have thought of a way integrate better than we did) and there is a huge psychological jump from “A Moment With You” to “Happily Ever After” which, linked only by “Marry Me a Little” seems a little fast. On the plus side, the divisions between fantasy and reality are pretty clear and the more you can play with those lines, the more interesting the show becomes.
The audiences, for the most part, seemed to appreciate the show and there wasn’t a single performance where someone didn’t come up to us after the show with a a story about how he/she really identified with a particular song or lyric because of a particular experience in his/her life. For me, the fact that we were actually communicating something to people that made them reflect about their lives was something that I found profoundly moving.
There is actually an incredible amount of stage business notated in the ‘book’ – such as it is – that does very little but distract the audience from the soul-stirring words. Much of this extra business was cut in our production. While still working within the concept, we tried to find a greater level of focus that came from playing the material instead of playing with pencils that fell from the desk and flushing toilets and spending forever preparing food that there wasn’t really time to eat anyway. Ultimately this served the material far better and helped the audience to follow the journey of the characters through this one evening in their lives far more clearly.
Because there is a character arc in the material, this is something that became really important to us as a point in putting this show together creatively. How do you get an audience that lives in a primarily visual culture to respond to something that is essentially an auditory experience where not only music but also words are really important? Particularly when the culture of the audience does not necessarily include Sondheim’s work as a reference point, which might prepare them for this experience. I really think this is a huge problem with audiences unaccustomed to listening to what lyrics have to say, which is particularly necessary with Sondheim’s work.
In a sense this is why “Two Fairy Tales” works so well as an opening number – besides focusing the concept for the evening, it really makes the audience realise that they have to listen because they are faced with a number that they can understand without hearing every word but in which it becomes apparent that the more words they hear, the richer their experienced will become. And so it means that their is a greater degree of attention through the much simpler “Saturday Night” and that they are settled in for for the real playing with words that happens from “Can That Boy Foxtrot?” through much of the rest of the show.
One of the things that was said to us again and again during the run was that it took a couple of numbers for audiences to tune into the idea of listening to the lyrics and the people who came twice only really managed to fully appreciate “Two Fairy Tales,” which opens the show, the second time they came to watch because they knew they had to listen from the very beginning. And there was certainly a deeper sense of appreciation for the lyrics in people who saw the show a second time.
As a side note, I must say that I cannot believe how badly the original cast recording represents the show, with the song order rearranged and the poor performances. It’s even more disappointing once you’ve seen the show in action, so to speak, than when you first hear the recording and you’re just trying to make sense of it.