A composer hands a chorus line dancer a box full of musical scores – most of them rejects – and says, “do what you can.”
The songs have something to do with love: longing for, being in, running from. So maybe there’s a through-line. But still, these were discards, their edges brown with age. A musical built around outtakes? And not only that, some were written 20 years ago.
But then again, the year was 1979, and the dancer was young Craig Lucas, a wannabe playwright whose day job, at the time, was performing in Sweeney Todd on Broadway.
And the composer was Stephen Sondheim. Lucas and his friend/director Norman Rene arranged the songs into a wordless musical revue. Lucas gave it the kind of space/time spin he would later employ in Prelude to a Kiss, Blue Window, and Reckless.
Many of the songs, Sondheim writes in Finishing the Hat (2010) and Look, I Made a Hat (2011), either didn’t quite fit or were last-minute cuts. When Marry Me a Little premiered in 1981, people wondered why they died on the cutting room floor.
In the original, the characters are Him and Her. They live in one-room apartments in the same building. To emphasize the near-and-yet-so-farness, they perform in the same space.
One of the early numbers, “The Girls of Summer,” was commissioned in 1956 for a play by N. Richard Nash (of The Rainmaker fame). It has a pure, Sondheim line. Summer is over. The singer didn’t fall in love and has the “same undamaged/Heart/That I had at the start.”
In a way, Marry Me a Little takes a close look at what that “damage” might have been, if Him and Her met by chance at the elevator door and fell in love.
At first they’re alone. They dream of “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” think they’ve found love (“A Moment with You”), and decide to go only most of the way (“Marry Me a Little” – one of the most hedged-bet tunes ever written). Then “Him” has the equivalent of buyer’s remorse. He sings the paranoid “Happily Ever After” (“Someone to love you too close/Someone to hurt you too deep/Someone to love you too hard/Happily ever after”), a song cut from Company, says Sondheim, in part it was such a “downer.”
So Him and Her separate. Or do they? Has the musical been a kind of flash-forward? Of “damage” to come? Or, for those in the house with embers of romance still warm, can they over-come it this time?
Diversionary Theatre and crafty director James Vasquez give the revue a different take: three, actually. The show runs in repertory with itself. One evening features Him and Her; another Him and Him: the other Her and Her. Same songs. New subtext: marriage is now a possibility for all three couples. I caught the Her and Her show – thus this P(review), since I’ve only seen a third of the whole.
It’s a modest charmer. Sarah Errington and Mitzi Michaels explore love’s zodiac from giddy hopes and highs to forlorn, Sondheimian dejection. Both are engaging performers able to switch moods in a jiff. In Diversionary’s intimate space, they sing un-miked – itself a treat in this age of amplified vocals – and backed by the indefatigable Tony Houck on piano.
Director Vasquez orchestrates a continual flow, and his choreography serves the songs, especially “Pour Le Sport,” Sondheim’s tribute to “flapper” musicals of the 20s and 30s. He wrote it for The Last Resorts (1956), which never got past a first draft. Were it not for Marry Me A Little, it might have stayed in Sondheim’s “trunk” of rejects forever.