I Do! I Do! Delightfully Revived at Bickford
The two-character musical depicts fifty years in the marriage of Michael and Agnes commencing just before the turn of the twentieth century. The setting is the bedroom of their house. Beginning with the awkward first night of their marriage and ending as they move out of the house which has become too large for them, the musical lightly depicts their awkward wedding night, their first fight, the birth and maturation of their children, Michael's success writing commercial novels, Michael's philandering, and the subtle adjustments in their relationship as they adjust to their empty nest and advancing years. Strangely, the three-act The Fourposter extended over a period of about 35 years, and, if one does the math, Agnes and Michael were married for 15 years before they had children.
I Do! I Do! is a sentimental, low key musical which, particularly in the first act, is quite clichéd and, viewed from a twenty-first century perspective, not sufficiently critical of Michael's domination of Agnes. However, there is ultimately more strength, seriousness and verisimilitude in Tom Jones' depiction of the uneven power relationship of Agnes and Michael, and the adjustments that the changes which occur over the course of a marriage require. There is a greater degree of passion and liveliness than one associates with this musical which enhances these issues. Credit director Eric Hafen (with musical staging by Laurie Piro), who has effectively turned up the robustness of the performance without ruffling its usual gentle charms.
The principal delight of I Do! I Do! is the melodic, charming score (music by Harvey Schmidt/ lyrics by Tom Jones). While younger audiences may have difficulty surrendering to its old fashioned gentle charms, older audiences, most definitely including this reviewer, will surely delight in reacquainting ourselves with its not often enough performed charms. Played on dual pianos as originally arranged by Schmidt, and strongly sung and interpreted by Scott McGowan and Christine Marie Heath, it is a treat.
Both McGowan grow stronger and stronger as Michael and Agnes mature. Heath is a most winning, very multifaceted Agnes. This is quite an accomplishment given her essential acquiescence to her limited options. Dramatically and musically, Heath's performance builds to the pinnacle of the thoughtful, beautifully melodic "What is a Woman" ("Young girls are April/ Rainbows and changes/ One day, they grow up/ And April is over forever"). McGowan keeps the charm of Michael to an appropriate murmur, but reveals the vulnerability behind his pompously domineering side. This adds weight to Jones' spot-on lyric for "The Father of the Bride" ("My daughter is marrying an idiot/ And I wish she was just my daughter again."). There are more delightful "charm" songs sung in duet by our Michael and Agnes than you could likely find in any other musical. Most beautiful and heart tugging of all is their rendition of the enduring Jones-Schmidt classic, "My Cup Runneth Over (With Love)."
A handsome set by Bill Motyka sharply and brightly lit by David Landau and lovely costumes by Andrea Dente add to the evening's pleasures.
I Do! I Do! opened at the 46th Street Theatre on Broadway (now the Richard Rodgers) to high anticipation inspired by the casting of Mary Martin and Robert Preston (and direction by Gower Champion). With an exceptional advanced sale, it ran for 560 performances, but, despite its intimate, simple charms, it was generally regarded as a disappointment.
In sound, loving hands in the intimate confines of the New Jersey's Bickford Theatre, unencumbered by expectations which it was not built to satisfy, I Do! I Do! will please and delight everyone who is inclined to see it.
I Do! I Do! continues performances (Evenings: Thursday (4/19) 7:30 pm/ Friday & Saturday 8 pm / Matinees: Sunday 2 pm) through May 6, 2012) at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, New Jersey 07960: Box Office: 973-971-3706; online: www.bickfordtheatre.org.
I Do! I Do! Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones/ Music by Harvey Schmidt; directed by Eric Hafen