By Ruth Ross
Clocking in at a touch over 60 minutes, the Women's Theater Company's cool, polished production of Marry Me a Little is the perfect antidote for the hot weather that presages summer in New Jersey. The pocket musical—there are only two performers—incorporates songs by the great American composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim that were cut from several of his musicals, although the order and slight story woven through the songs are the brainchild of Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss) and his frequent collaborator Norman Rene.
The story, such as it is, involves two lonely, not so young singles alone in their respective apartments on a Saturday night. Aware of each other's existence, they are too reticent to pursue on, opting instead for dreaming of what could be. The songs convey not only their longing but also their fears of marriage, their expectations for happiness, the misery of being "alive and alone on a Saturday night" when "you might as well be dead."
Patricia Durante and Joe Elefante (both members of Actors Equity, the professional organization for actors) are terrific at conveying this longing through their renditions of Sondheim's music, although at times it's easy to see why some of these songs were never sung onstage. At times, the lyrics and melodies are overly complex, wording is clunky and the content often uninteresting (although we do not know the original context for which they were composed). Of the two performers, Durante "acts" her songs better, with an expressive face and beautiful smile—not to mention a terrific voice. Elefante is more laid-back, so we don't really get a sense of his angst, although he does sing well too.
Standout numbers are a very funny "Can That Boy Foxtrot" (cut from Follies) sung with sly double entendres by Durante. She really drags out the f in foxtrot so that there is no mistake about what she really means! A duet entitled "Two Fairy Tales" (from Into the Woods) gives the would-be relationship a fairy tale quality; we already know that it has little chance of fruition. Sondheim's pessimistic attitude toward love and wedded bliss are evident in "Bang" (from A Little Night Music), a comedic take-down of romance, and in "Marry Me a Little" (from Company) and "Happily Ever After" (from the same show), both of which telegraph the fear of losing one's "self" in marriage. "Pour le Sport" (from an unproduced show) spoofs golf while "Uptown, Downtown" (from Follies) chronicles the adventures of "hyphenated Harriett from New Rochelle," a girl so miserable in the 'burbs that she seeks excitement in the lower depths of New York society. And in a sequence entitled "A Moment with You," (from Saturday Night), Durante and Elefante perform a bittersweet waltz together, albeit in a dream.
Todd Mills' set design is efficient yet evocative, with two armchairs to signify the respective apartments and a park bench and bridge as a possible meeting spot in Central Park. Rich Lovallo provides strong musical direction and piano accompaniment, while Lauren Moran Mills' musical staging smoothly moves the principals around the playing space. Frances Harrison's costumes are not overly fussy, yet they suggest states of mind and personalities. And of course, kudos to director Barbara Krajkowski for her fluid, intelligent direction of this little-known musical revue.
Marry Me a Little may not contain Stephen Sondheim's best efforts, but it is interesting to see a master working out themes, lyrics and melodies that appear in his more successful musicals. The plot is slight—almost too slight to make sense—but fine performances make Marry Me a Little a fitting final production for the Women's Theater Company's 2015-2016 season. It's perfect music for a summer night!
Marry Me a Little will be performed at the Parsippany Playhouse, 1130 Knoll Road, Lake Hiawatha, through June 5; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for seniors. To purchase tickets online please visit www.womenstheater.org or call 973.316.3033. For GPS driving directions, enter “Boonton 07005.”