Every composer has a trunk — the place where unwanted, underappreciated, and/or unpublished songs are preserved — and after a career spanning more than half a century, Stephen Sondheim’s trunk must be about to burst. Someone could probably cobble together a Sondheim revue every season for the next 10 years without duplicating a single song. But 30-plus years ago, playwright Craig Lucas and director Norman René picked a pretty good bunch of tunes off Sondheim’s B list and cobbled together the sweet little two-hander Marry Me a Little. And for this Off Broadway revival — at the Clurman on Theatre Row through Oct. 21 — the Keen Company isn’t messing with the material (much).
Lucas, also the show’s original star, gave Marry Me only the mere suggestion of a plot: a guy, Him (Jason Tam), and a girl, Her (Lauren Molina), live in the same New York City apartment building and sing about love and longing. (Fun fact: Before he went on to write plays like Prelude to a Kiss and movies like Longtime Companion, Lucas performed in the chorus of Sondheim’s 1979 Sweeney Todd.)
The plot is incidental; this show is all about the music. And in 70 minutes, Marry Me manages to squeeze in 20 Sondheim songs, some more appealing than others, that for one reason or another never went mainstream — well, as mainstream as Sondheim can get. (Seven, incidentally, are castaways from the 1971 now-cult classic Follies.) The best of them: the beautifully idealistic ”Who Could Be Blue?/Little White House,” originally sung by a pair of young lovers in Follies; the cool, bluesy riff ”The Girls of Summer” that’s not unlike Sondheim’s Oscar-winning Dick Tracy torch song ”Sooner Or Later” (and was written for a 1956 drama by The Rainmaker playwright N. Richard Nash); and the delightfully saucy ”Can That Boy Foxtrot!,” later replaced by the now-iconic ”I’m Still Here” in Follies.
Though I could have done without ”Bring on the Girls” — sung by Tam while cradling his MacBook — the new-for-this-production numbers are mostly treats. The gorgeous ”If You Can Find Me, I’m Here” — from the 1966 four-song teleplay Evening Primrose — proves a stellar opener. (Note to collectors: You can now get Primrose, which stars a post-Psycho Anthony Perkins and a fresh?from?Sound of Music Charmain Carr, on DVD.) And even die-hard Sondheim fans will likely never have heard the lush ”Rainbows,” written for an as-yet-unmade Into the Woods film. Fingers crossed that it gets into the version Rob Marshall (Chicago, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) is working on; it’s a wonderful glass-half-full/glass-half-empty ballad, envisioned as a duet between the childless Baker and his wife.
If one number sticks out, it’s the clipped, sinister ”Silly People” (an excision from 1973’s A Little Night Music); while it gives Molina a chance to play the cello — which she did so hauntingly in the 2005 actors-as-orchestra Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd — it’s just an aural oddity. We could quibble about the staging: Who are these New Yorkers who leave their doors open…with their keys in the lock? Or about the performances: Tam, so moving and memorable as former drag performer Paul in the 2006 A Chorus Line revival, is likable but oddly generic here; he could be any Bruno Mars-esque Brooklyn hipster. Molina gets to display more emotional (and vocal) range even if some of the songs — like the powerhouse ”Marry Me a Little,” now pretty much a standard in any Company — aren’t perfectly made for her silvery soprano. But what she lacks in the lower register she makes up for in charm and presence.
But did we mention it’s all about the music? B
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