Tuesday, April 17, 2012

REVIEW: MUSICAL COMEDY CELEBRATES MARRIAGE @ THE BICKFORD THEATRE

The WeddingRecent statistics say that the marriage rate is rising—hey, even Brangelina are reportedly planning to wed after seven years of co-habitating! While I doubt that it will ever reach the institution's percentages of 1898 through 1948, the time period covered in I Do! I Do!, where there's a will, there's hope, I guess.

Based on Jan de Hartog’s 1952 Tony Award-winning play, The Fourposter, this 1966 musical—lyrics and book by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt of The Fantasticks fame—follows the 50-year marriage of Agnes and Michael Snow. While that period might seem quaint to hip 21st century theatergoers, the production closing the Bickford Theatre's 2011-2012 season sparkles under Eric Hafen's skillful direction and the glowing performances by the two (and only) leads, Scott McGowan and Christine Marie Heath.

Through a series of musical snapshots, the play chronicles the Snows’ marriage from wedding ceremony through two pregnancies, a flirtation with adultery, separation and reconciliation, empty-nest syndrome and, finally, the death of one of the spouses (although that event is not made manifest onstage). All the action occurs in the Snows' bedroom where, front and center, stands a huge fourposter bed designed by Bill Motyka. A change of bed linen, hair styles and costumes mark the passage of time.

As lovely as this all looks, the success of the play depends on the portrayal of Michael and Agnes being just as convincing on their wedding night through infidelity to their golden years. McGowan and Heath deliver that in spades. Both are superb actors as well as singers and dancers; consequently, they don't just sing the lyrics, they act them.

I Love My WifeMcGowan hilariously dances around a sleeping Agnes the morning following their wedding night, warbling “I Love My Wife.” He captures the feeling of being left out of a momentous event, the birth of his first child, in the “Waiting Room Walk,” and is quite droll intoning “A Well-Known Fact” that men age better than women (he's so cute that women will find it hard to get mad at his arrogance). Best of all, he conveys the angst of “Father of the Bride” when he stamps around the stage declaring, “My daughter is marrying an idiot”!

Happy ParentsEvery time Heath arrives on stage, she lights up the Bickford auditorium. Waddling around with a baby bump, she innocently announces, “Something Has Happened,” much to the audience’s delight. And when faced with her husband’s infidelity, she becomes “Flaming Agnes” before our eyes, almost setting the theater on fire! Her poignant rendition of “What Is a Woman” conveys the empty-nest syndrome experienced by many a mother/wife once her children have left the nest.

In any Jones-Schmidt musical, there aren't many songs that go on to be popular with the public, but "My Cup Runneth Over," beautifully sung as a duet by McGowan and Heath will have you humming with familiarity. Recorded by Ed Ames, the song became a staple at weddings (before recorded music became the rage).

Nick DeGregorio's musical direction never overpowers the singers, and Andrea Dente's costumes are appropriate to each era. I only wish that the properties would have helped telegraph the passage of time better; the addition of a radio, electric lamps or other props of the period would have helped us pinpoint the exact decade when the action takes place.

But this is a trivial quibble, for our eyes (and ears) are so riveted on the actors that all else pales in comparison. In an era when couples live together and often start a family without a marriage license, I Do! I Do! might seem kind of old-fashioned. Nevertheless, the lovely melodies performed by two actors who can sing and act (and dance) pay homage to the great American tradition of musical comedy. Because the show has only two actors and one set, it’s perfect for regional theater.

Once again, the Bickford Theatre has mounted a winner! Did I like it? I did! I did!

I Do! I Do! will be performed Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday afternoons through May 6 at the Bickford Theatre in the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.971.3706 or visit online at www.morrismuseum.org .