Friday, February 3, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Marry Me A Little at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Marry Me A Little at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Marry Me A Little
Conceived by Craig Lucas & Norman Rene
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Barrie Gelles
Performers: Adrian Rifit & Paul Williams
Musical Director: Yi-Hsuan (Sobina) Chi
The Gallery Players 
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 2/2/17

Marry Me A Little contains lesser-known songs written by Stephen Sondheim performed by two young men living in identical studio apartments a floor apart. There is no dialogue and no amplification. The only musical accompaniment comes from a piano. There are no costume changes as these two young single men (performed on different nights by two women and by a man and a woman) sing Sondheim songs about love. The actors never touch but sometimes they do fantasize about being in love and gaze into each other's eyes. They occasionally dance but mainly move about the apartment just living their lives on an evening spent alone unaware of the other's existence. Paul Williams' character has a tendency to drink. Adrian Rifat's character finds sexual pleasure in his expert, penetrating use of a dildo. Both are seen reflecting as they sing the songs in this musical either solo or together. The alternative casting lost its potential emotional impact due to the pronouns in the songs not having been changed to suit the gender variations. The result is Marry Me A Little having been turned into a revue of recondite Stephen Sondheim songs performed without a strong connecting plot. Still, the acting abilities of the two leads turned many of the songs into crowd-pleasers that garnered enthusiastic applause. 

Barrie Gelles, the Director, failed to introduce a sufficient background story to better connect the songs to make the show more interesting. It may also have been the director's fault that the actors sang with little projection. Perhaps they were instructed to keep it real by singing the same way one might sing to oneself but the result was that it was difficult for audience members to make out some of the lyrics. A short in a cable caused an overhead blue spotlight to flicker several times right in the middle of songs. This was extremely distracting. The set was wonderful, realistic and very reminiscent of a typical New York City apartment  I liked the exposed white brick and the two identical apartments were spacious enough for the two actors to move about in the same space without awkwardly running into one another. Both performers were excellent, especially their "acting" while singing. You could feel both actors were completely invested in each and every song. Their voices were up to the task but Paul Williams' voice cracked terribly on one of his first high notes. This may have been because he failed to sufficiently warm up before the performance. Later, he hit lots of high notes well - perhaps because he warmed up during the show. This normally would not have been that big a deal but remember this is a musical show - without lines or long breaks between numbers - sort of like opera (and voice cracking has ended the careers of many in the opera world). The shortness of this musical, running only an hour, also left some audience members wondering whether they got their money's worth of entertainment for the price they paid.

The history and origin of the featured songs are as follows: "If You Can Find Me, I'm Here" is from Evening Primrose, a musical written for television that aired in 1966. "Saturday Night," "So Many People," and "A Moment With You" were all created for Saturday Night, Sondheim's first show that was written in 1954 but not produced until 1997. Many of these songs were cut from earlier versions of Follies (1972): "Can That Boy Foxtrot," "All Things Bright & Beautiful," "Uptown, Downtown," "Who Could Be Blue," "Little White House," and "It Wasn't Meant To Happen." "Bang" and "Silly People" were cut from A Little Night Music (1973). "The Girls Of Summer" was originally written as an instrumental piece for a play by the same name that was produced in 1956; the lyrics were added when the song was used for promotional purposes. "Once Upon A Time" (also known as "Your Eyes Are Blue") was written for A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962). "Marry Me A Little" and "Happily Ever After" were both cut from the original production of Company (1970) but "Marry Me A Little" was restored in the licensed version in the 1990s and was included in the 1995 and 2006 revivals. "There Won't Be Trumpets" was written for Anyone Can Whistle (1964). 

Marry Me A Little was originally staged by the Off-Off-Broadway Production Company. It opened on October 29, 1980 and closed December 28, 1980. It re-opened March 12, 1981 at the Off-Broadway Actor's Playhouse, where it ran for 96 performances. In late 1998, actor Steve Gideon proposed a revival of the work with the casting of a male same-sex couple to play the leads. Stephen Sondheim gave permission and the new version of the work debuted at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood, California in 1999. In 2012, the Off-Broadway Keen Company produced a version of the show with a revised song list and an improved dramaturgical arc. With permission from Music Theatre International and Sondheim's representatives, The Gallery Player's production of Marry Me A Little is a version of the show that bridges the 1981 and 2012 versions.

If you are a Stephen Sondheim fan, I would recommend you go out of your way to see this musical. Adrian Rifat and Paul Williams are talented actors who bring emotional depth to many of the songs they perform. I was particularly impressed with Adrian Rifat's rendition of "Marry Me A Little," and "Don't Look For Trumpets," and Paul Williams' performance of "Uptown, Downtown," and "Happily Ever After." Mr. Rifat and Mr. Williams also gave their all to move the audience when singing "Can That Boy Foxtrot," "Little White House," "All Things Bright & Beautiful," "Bang," "Once Upon A Time," and "It Wasn't Meant To Happen." Of the remaining songs, I am sure you will have your favorites. But remember that many of Stephen Sondheim's songs don't have much of an actual melody, and the lyrics tend to be chatty. Many of his songs have zero "hum-ability" and you may be hard-pressed to recall the tunes even immediately after hearing them. Still, devoted Stephen Sondheim fans will adore this musical. In addition, The Gallery Players' superb production of Marry Me A Little contains moments of brilliance that may make your trip to Park Slope well worthwhile. It is just that this musical may not be for everyone. Caution is advised.

Marry Me A Little plays at The Gallery Players through February 18, 2017. Tickets are $25.00 for adults and $20.00 for seniors and children. For reservations and more information, call 212-352-3101 or visit 

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