"Marry Me A Little" Review- Porchlight Music Theatre does Sondheim

Porchlight Music Theatre at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, is currently presenting “Marry Me A Little”, through May 21, starring Austin Cook (who also serves as music director) and Bethany Thomas. This delightful presentation is a 70 minute romp through “compositions originally created for other Stephen Sondheim projects, some used, some not”. Conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman René in 1980, and directed here by Jess McLeod, it’s a story of the yearning for yet fear of love.

Austin Cook at the piano and Bethany Thomas, seated

Two single neighbors who reside in separate apartments- she lives downstairs- blend their voices together in expert fashion and wend their way into our dreams. This new version, updated in collaboration with Sondheim himself, is composed of 21 musical numbers taken from the following Sondheim projects: “Saturday Night”, “The Girls of Summer”, “Follies”, “A Little Night Music”, “Forum”, “Company”, “Into the Woods”, “Merrily we Roll Along”, “Evening Primrose” and “Road Show”, thereby covering a broad spectrum of material. The original version, crafted in 1981, was produced with piano music only; this version uses original orchestration by the talented Cook, who tinkles the ivories on a perfectly tuned Baldwin, with fine sound design by Keegan Bradac.

Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas back to back

Beautifully sung by Cook and Thomas, who also camp it up and smooch a lot, this is a thoroughly enjoyable vocal yet non-verbal performance in which the lack of dialogue actually helps the plot along. Essentially, the story unfolds thus in song and pantomime: The Man plays and sings too loudly. Banging on the ceiling doesn’t work, so The Woman goes upstairs, where he charms her with a clever ballad. The romance begins, their troth is plighted, then it's blighted by diverse feelings on possible impending pregnancy. They separate, he mourns, she philosophizes. The set is charming thanks to scenic design by Jeff Kniec; there’s the piano, a table and chair where The Woman muses and kicks up her heels, and a couch where they disport. There are three double-paned windows to create the illusion of separate dwellings, as well as the door by which The Woman enters- and ultimately leaves- The Man.

Austin Cook plays and Bethany Thomas shoots

The quality of the material is staggering; it’s amazing to recall that these songs were “rejects” or leftovers from both classic and rare shows. The virtuoso singing, solo and together is worth twice the price of admission. It opened strongly with “Alive and Alone On a Saturday Night”, and closed poignantly with “It Wasn’t Meant to Be”, and the perfectly written and enunciated lyrics through 10 duets wove a saga of dreams of picket fences, happy-ever-afters, and, alas, regrets.

Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas in "Marry Me A Little" from Porchlight Music Theatre

Cook , a dab hand at Sondheim, is an amazingly skilled pianist, who is fully immersed, swiveling in and away, tapping his toes on and off the pedals. He’s also a very ardent lover! When he holds the lovely Thomas in his arms, and their lips meet, he’s irresistible. Thomas herself, a Jeff award- winning actress, by turns arch and coy, has a voice composed of strength and honey. To watch her strut and hear her sing “Can That Boy Foxtrot” is to partake of intimate musical theater at it’s best.

Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas face to face

 

For information and tickets to “Marry Me A Little”, go to the porchlightmusictheatre website

 

 

All photos by Brandon Dahlquist

 

 

 

 

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