Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - June 13, 2014

Looking for Love

'Marry Me A Little' celebrates seldom-heard Sondheim

by Jeanie K. Smith

TheatreWorks ends its season with a musical revue, a show that was created in 1980 by Craig Lucas and Norman René by putting together little-known songs from the large, sprawling oeuvre of Stephen Sondheim. Tender, sweet, and funny, the dialogue-free "plot" of "Marry Me a Little" puts two young people in the same apartment building, each alternately eschewing and then hoping for love. The revue has gone through many revivals and versions since its debut and recently underwent some updates in its Broadway revival, but TheatreWorks' thoroughly enjoyable rendition pays homage to the towering genius of Sondheim with pure strokes.

The main variance is that the young man and woman — the charming and talented A. J. Shively and Sharon Rietkerk — are now in an iconic Victorian apartment in San Francisco rather than a New York flat, with his above and hers below. In a bit of theatrical conceit, the actors share the same stage space, but not the same apartment; we soon realize they aren't just ignoring each other, they're actually in separate flats. As they sing about being alone on a Saturday night, or wanting to find love, or proving they don't need it, director Robert Kelley's clever staging illuminates both their isolation and their proximity — it's right there, right next to them all along. It also makes for some amusing juxtapositions, as they make their dinners in the same kitchen or flop on the same bed, almost connecting.

Even if you think you know Sondheim, you may not have heard most of these songs before — almost 20 rarities, songs that were cut from shows, or earlier versions, or from shows not often produced. So, while that inimitable Sondheim sound and smart lyrics abound, it's like discovering his brilliance anew, taking you along to places you didn't know he went. So many gems, like "Two Fairy Tales," and the amazing "Bang!" originally written for "A Little Night Music," or "Saturday Night" and "So Many People" from "Saturday Night." How did "Your Eyes Are Blue" ever get cut from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum?" or "There Won't Be Trumpets" fall out of "Anyone Can Whistle?"

Reitkerk and Shively are both wonderfully up to the Sondheim challenge, embodying the hopefulness and promise of youth while delivering big vocals and the emotional power of the songs.

Bruce McLeod's set provides numerous playing spaces and cements the upstairs-downstairs illusion, while positioning music director and pianist William Liberatore in the apartment next door. The rising moon over a San Francisco skyline is particularly effective. The musical decision to simply pair piano with performers works beautifully; and if there is miking, it's subtle and never discernible, thanks to sound designer Brendan Aanes, giving the whole show more of an intimate, cabaret feel. Lighting by Stephen B. Mannshardt provides excellent isolation and definition, as well as moonlight.

Consider this brilliant gem of a show the preamble to next season's huge undertaking of another "Sweeney Todd." Start off your immersion in Sondheim's extraordinary talent with a delightful dip into his rarer treasures.

What: "Marry Me a Little," music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman René, presented by TheatreWorks

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mt. View

When: Through June 29, with 7:30 p.m. shows Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday - Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, and 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday

Cost: Tickets range from $19 to $73; special discounts for under-30, educators, seniors.

Info: Go to www.theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960

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