Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has long had a love affair with Stephen Sondheim. Most notably, the recent revival of Company started here before moving to Broadway. However, you can't blame even the most experienced and knowledgeable local theatergoers for not being familiar with the Sondheim show currently playing at the Playhouse. Marry Me A Little is a 65-minute revue of sorts. Unlike most revues, Marry Me A Little primarily takes unknown songs cut from the master's earlier shows and spins them together in a two-character story. Playhouse provides a solidly directed, entertaining and well-performed production of this little known musical.
Marry Me A Little explores the universal longings of the heart, as two individuals (here identified only as Man and Woman) fight loneliness, pine for lost loves, and look to the future. The isolation of these two people in a city of millions (New York) is insightful and personaljust what we've come to expect from a Sondheim show.
The musical premiered in 1980 and consists primarily of songs cut from Follies, A Little Night Music, and Company. However, to well-versed theatergoers, the songs they'll recognize the most come from Saturday Night (which now has two cast recordings, but was a long abandoned project back in 1980), as well as "There Won't Be Trumpets" and the title song, both of which have become Sondheim standards. The score contains Sondheim's usual sophisticated and intriguing melodies partnered with highly intelligent word play in his lyrics. Song highlights include the jaunty "Can That Boy Foxtrot," "Bang!," the tender "So Many People", and the aforementioned "Marry Me a Little."
At Cincinnati Playhouse, Sally Wilfert sings beautifully, and aptly conveys her character as a quirky, endearing and hopeful dreamer. Benjamin Eakeley sings capably throughout and brings a believable introspective quality to his portrayal of the cynical bachelor. The pair have great chemistry together, which isn't an easy feat since there's only limited interaction with each other during a brief fantasy section.
Director/Choreographer Stafford Arima, who helmed Ace and Altar Boyz at Playhouse previously, provides lively staging, smile-inducing dances, clarifying sound effects and an appropriate tone throughout. For a show without any dialogue and using songs written for various shows, the plight of these two people is clearly communicated (credit likewise to Craig Lucas and Norman Rene for the concept and development of the story). Musical Director Lynne Shankel provides spirited piano accompaniment.
Set Designer Beowulf Boritt skillfully provides two minutely detailed, cleverly distinct (his is a mess, hers is refined) and authentic (in both their furnishings and cramped) apartments which blend together at the middle in a wonderful use of the small performance space. The costumes by Gordon DeVinney are suitable, and Aaron Spivey's lighting is professionally rendered.
Marry Me A Little allows audiences the chance to hear some great Sondheim songs to which they might not otherwise be exposed, but the show also stands on its own as a tuneful and smart look at companionship (or the lack thereof) and our need to connect with others. Worthwhile performers, direction, and design help to make this a fine way to wrap up the 2008-2009 theater season. The show runs through June 14, 2009. For additional information and tickets, call the box office at (513) 421-3888.