Regional Reviews: St. Louis
I Do! I Do!
Also see Richard's review of Luchadora!
It sounds like a stunt, double-casting this play about a 50-year marriage. But there are forty performances of it crammed into the month of June and through July first at the Robert G. Reim Theatre. So I suppose your other choice is just to watch one cast of two middle-aged hoofers slowly kill themselves over four weeks, in Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's musicalization of Jan de Hartog's The Fourposter. Do the math: two people, practically my age, on stage for two hours and fifteen minutes (not counting intermission), singing and running around the whole time, nearly ten times a week. It'd be like watching They Shoot Horses, Don't They? all over again.
But still, I Do! I Do! is what Stages was made for: a trip down Memory Lane, with a top hat and a cane.
In that sense, Stages is like the Muny Opera, but indoors. Admittedly, Stages has only about 400 seats, or 4% of the Muny's seating capacity, but it also has much better pick-up and drop-off for the elderly and handicapped (and, obviously, air conditioning). Like the modern Muny, Stages (now in its 32nd Season) has only ever done musicals, and rarely challenges its audiences. In fact, I Do! I Do! was also part of their inaugural 1987 season.
Now Stages can spend a fortune on great costumes and a lovely set with a bed that spins around and rolls in and out of a secret hideaway upstage, and a chandelier and stained glass window that descend from abovenot to mention a literal "framing device," a big, LED-powered proscenium, carved and wired for this show, to color-saturate the emotional tenor of any given scene. So the idea that you'd just be stuck there, just staring at two people for an entire evening, is somewhat ameliorated. Plus, it's largely intended to be showbiz, after all: exhibitionism, not art; not voyeurism; not life "caught in the act."
Success spoils fin de cycle novelist Michael, while stay-at-home mom Agnes is eclipsed again and again, till the inevitable explosions occur. And there are a lot of genuinely earned yuks over "her stuff" and "his stuff," a needlepoint pillow, and even cod liver oil. But set all that aside, because the honest truth is that Ms. Melançon really does find the deepest chasms of disappointment in any relationship (so some artistic voyeurism does creep in), and Mr. Isom (who only recently ventured into musical comedy himself) seems born to it all.
Just to put a button on it, I went back three days later to see Kari Ely and David Schmittou in the same two roles, and the show was quite excellent, in a different way. They are naturally sleekhe is debonair, even in his lowest moments, and brimming with charm; she, yearning and eager (as we imagine Mary Martin, in the 1966 original) and a much improved singer compared to her outing as Golde in Stages' 2014 Fiddler on the Roof. Basking in their sublime stage presence we see two figures, like the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building at dusk, magical and eternal. She makes the defiant song "Flaming Agnes" actually work (turns out, it's all in the wrists); and he evokes the memory of Robert Preston (the original Michael) in his suave, impetuous delivery.
A friend confessed to me it was all rather dated, and it is. But I was glad I went back and saw it again. It really grows on you.
I Do! I Do!, through July 1, 2018, at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer, St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.stagesstlouis.org.