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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

I Do, I Do!
Westport Country Playhouse

Also see Fred's review of Absurd Person Singular

I Do, I Do
Lewis Cleale and
Kate Baldwin

I Do! I Do!, in an extended run at Westport Country Playhouse through September 4th, is a delectable musical which features two near-perfect actors and, sitting just below them on the orchestra floor, two terrific pianists. The original production of this show opened on Broadway in 1966 and it is difficult to imagine that the legendary performers, Mary Martin and Robert Preston, could sing any better than the current duo: Kate Baldwin (Agnes) and Lewis Cleale (Michael).

This piece, featuring book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt (the men who also fashioned The Fantasticks) is based upon a play called The Fourposter, written in 1951 by Jan de Hartog.  I Do! I Do! covers a half century of marriage and begins with a freshly scrubbed young couple in 1898.

Anyone looking for musical theater on the outer artistic edge will be disappointed with Artistic Director Mark Lamos' current Westport choice. This presentation, however, is quite fresh and breathes with the spirit of talented, youthful actors performing at peak. The fifty years of marriage is not forever smooth. For example, Michael, a writer, admits to an affair with another woman. Agnes is furious but her relationship with her husband survives.

The protagonists have two children and must interact with these unseen kids as the teenagers move through adolescence. Michael is determined to deal forcefully with his son; but that does not happen. Much of the story replicates life as it was during the first part of the twentieth century and is appropriate, perhaps, for the current day.

Susan H. Schulman, working with singer/actors who are youthful stars of the contemporary musical stage, creates a lively pace through her direction. Michael Lichtefeld's choreography facilitates some graceful, lyrical dance. Kate Baldwin seems to glide fluently throughout.

The twenty or so musical numbers include "I Love My Wife," "A Well Known Fact," "Flaming Agnes," "The Honeymoon Is Over" and "When the Kids Get Married." The one tune which is recognizable is the sweet ballad, "My Cup Runneth Over." Baldwin, always on pitch, appears to sing effortlessly and she demonstrates significant range. Cleale's resonant voice, too, is excellent. Moreover, they have just enough intuitive feel for one another that it is possible to imagine them married for decades.

Alexander Boroson and Joel Fram, on pianos, actively contribute to the proceedings. The hidden instruments are situated side-by-side just in front of the stage and the musical accompaniment is proactive and inviting.

It feels as if one is sitting in upon a live musical slide show of a lengthy marriage and this observation is stated as a compliment. Wilson Chin, designing, provides an A-frame house configuration which includes, always, a bed. Agnes and Michael debate the merits of a certain treasured pillow ... Chin's trappings are spare but ever suitable. Devon Painter's wardrobe selections are period appropriate and add to mood of the various years depicted.

I Do! I Do! brings Broadway caliber performance to WCP and that is hard to resist. Initially, there is a temptation to conclude that, for all its value, such theater might appeal to a specific "mature" generation of theatergoers. That notion is probably incorrect: impressive performance simply works!

I Do! I Do continues at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut through September 4th. For ticket information, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


- Fred Sokol



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