In 1980, when Craig Lucas and Norman René first put together the loosely-plotted review, Marry Me A Little, using songs from Stephen Sondheim's trunk, they had to write it to be performed on a shared set with which the show would run in repertory at the off-off-Broadway Production Company. That set was a single Manhattan apartment. Their solution was to write about two singles living in two different apartments, one upstairs from the other, but have it staged with both occupying the same space onstage. The conceit effectively communicated the feeling of loneliness and isolation singles can feel when living in a big city.
For a revival of the two-person musical at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in California (June 4-29, 2014), Director Robert Kelley enjoyed a bit more scenic freedom and took full advantage of the company's tradition of gorgeous sets on the venue’s wide stage. Scenic designer Bruce McLeod gave him a rock-solid replica of an efficiency apartment and placed part of a neighboring apartment stage-left plus the entrance to the apartment building on stage-right. Rather than make this a Manhattan apartment, however, McLeod backed the setting with the distinctive skyline of San Francisco, the city 50 miles to the north where many of the young techies who work for computer firms including Google, Apple and Facebook have to go to find housing.
Music director William Liberatore provided Kelley with an additional opportunity to expand the space of the production – in this case the sonic space. He took the single-piano accompaniment for the score and created something of an overture which he played at the piano in that stage-left apartment as if he were a neighbor. Kelley then had the two performers playing "Him" and "Her" enter while Liberatore played that five-themed introduction.
Liberatore opened with the strains of "All Things Bright and Beautiful" which set the tone for a highly melodic evening. He soon spiced things up with the jazzy rhythms of "Can That Boy Foxtrot" and then leavened the mix with a dulcet segment of "Who Could Be Blue?" When he broke into "Happily Ever After," a solo for "Him" in the show, A. J. Shively made his entrance down the right-hand aisle on a bicycle, signaled a "hello" to his neighboring pianist and let himself into his apartment. With the melody of the title tune, Sharon Rietkerk entered on foot, did a double-take at the sound of the piano.
Kelley provided many pieces of business for Shively and Rietkerk that made it quite clear to the audience that they were each in their own apartment and that each lived alone, even though that would not be either's first choice. They proceeded through their solitary evening, doing "Saturday Night" as a duet without interacting, fantasizing what they might do if they had a date for the evening ("Bang!") and lamenting their solitude ("So Many People").
Liberatore, who as Music Director had responsibilities for teaching the cast the music and for the quality of the vocal work, says he and Kelley were "incredibly fortunate" to find two performers who could provide the clarity of enunciation they wanted for the show. This was because Sondheim's lyrics are so precise and, along with sound designer Brendan Aanes, they strived for a nearly-acoustic feeling for the sound. Neither performer wore a portable microphone. Instead, area mikes caught the sound in different segments of the stage.
Rietkerk, a local talent, had appeared with TheatreWorks a number of times. Shively made his Broadway debut as Jean-Michel, the son in the 2010 revival of La Cage aux Folles. She handled lyrics well, but he was even better. He was good with melody and tone but she was better. They were both light on their feet, which made their dance break work nicely.
In one of many moments of humor, Kelley had "Him" sitting on his bed watching a video on a laptop. Ramin Djawadi's main title from Game of Thrones blasted from the speaker causing "Her" to shout from her apartment at which point he donned ear phones. It was the only non-Sondheim moment of the show. [TSR]
A Marry Me for Silicon Valley
Apartment Sharing Never Sounded So Good