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Off Broadway Reviews

Little by Little

I've been thinking a lot lately about proximity. I wonder how our lives are shaped by the luck of the draw. Do we simply love those who are near us? I imagine the different paths my life might have taken had I gone to a different college, or been born in a different town. I could be married with six kids right now, or be thrice divorced. Who knows? We meet those we meet; we love those we love. In Little by Little, we love those Fate has given us in childhood.

Little by Little tells the story of three friends whose lives intertwine as they fall in and out of love with each other. The characters are named "Woman I," "Woman II," and "Man" as they are meant to be generic representatives of common experiences. For the most part this works very well. There are funny scenes early on as the games of childhood are complicated by the kicking in of adolescent hormones. We watch as the characters pair off and recombine after various forms of betrayal, and as they finally come to a deeper understanding of their connection.

This show is extraordinarily challenging vocally as it is sung through and all three characters remain onstage for the entire one and a half hours. The audience's focus is on the performances because they are all there is to watch; there is no spectacle in sets or stagecraft to divert attention. With only a piano accompaniment, the voices of the three performers shine.

It was a treat to see Christiane Noll, most famous for her role in Jekkyl and Hyde, in such an intimate venue. I have admired her for years and she did not disappoint as the charmingly vulnerable friend. In one particularly impressive feat, she sings while doing the most perfect push-ups I've ever seen. She portrays her character with warmth and a sense of humor about herself. Darrin Baker has an appealing persona, and he makes the most of what

he has to work with; his character is the least developed, the most generic, of the three. Though he is simply "the nice guy," he sings with a strong and lovely voice. I was especially impressed by Liz Larsen, with whom I was not familiar. She lights up the stage, showing so much with her eyes and the most subtle changes of expression. Her character is the most fully developed and it is a pleasure to watch as she grows emotionally during the show. You shouldn't miss the opportunity to see these performances.

The music, by Brad Ross, is engaging. The harmonies are intricately layered and very beautiful, particularly in the song "Starlight," in which the characters wish on the stars. I felt that the lyrics were strongest, and the least cliched, in the funny scenes. The song "Popcorn" explored the tentative moves of adolescent sexuality in a hilarious and very honest way. In "The Schmooze" we witness a business dinner in which we hear only half the lines; the responses we hear make apparent that the characters are making one faux pas after another and that they are desperate to please. It is a familiar situation and very witty.

The use of color in the costumes was simple, but clever. John Carver Sullivan dresses each character in his or her own color throughout the show, and the styles mature as the characters age. This is echoed in tri-colored veils which are intertwined symbolically at the back of the otherwise unadorned stage.

My companion for the evening likened the show to a Fred Astaire musical. Little by Little is a lot of fun, with the classic plot of boy-meets-girls explored in an entertaining way.

Little by Little's run has been extended through February 21, 1999 at the York Theatre, located at St. Peter's Church. Tickets are $35 for all shows except Friday and Saturday nights, which are $40. There are some student tickets available; call (212) 935-5820 for details. -- Wendy Guida

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