Updated: Mar 25
Spring has sprung in Long Beach. High time, then, for a Stephen Sondheim revue!
Urban legend has it that Stephen Sondheim’s “Marry Me a Little” was first recorded by Harry Nilsson…as a Christmas present! For years, fans of Harry Nilsson were wondering what exactly the deal was with Harry’s 1969 version of “Marry Me a Little.”
The song was not used for Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning 1970 musical, "Company" (which went on to win six Tonys, including Best Musical and five Drama Desk awards, including Best Music and Lyrics), because it didn't seem to fit the premise of the plot. Sondheim had cut the song from the show, but it was well-liked enough to be selected as the highlight and title track of an Off-Broadway musical revue, created in the early 1980s, consisting only of songs Sondheim had cut from many of his musicals.
But back in 1969, the song was still unpublished, unreleased and unrecorded – until Harry Nilsson’s version popped up on the ol’ black market. Nilsson, oddly enough, had added a lyric, mentioning a woman named “Judy” at the end of the tune (also mentioning Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year). So what’s the deal? It was years later when the full story came out (by this time, Nilsson was already dead), but it seems that "Judy" was Judy Prince, the wife of theater producer Hal Prince, giant of Broadway, reaper of Tonys.
According to Sondheim, "I was playing it and I told Hal that I had started this song but thought I should not finish it. The song didn't work in the context of the play.” Hal agreed, but Judy, who had been listening outside the door later told Sondheim, "I don't care whether it fits or not—I just think it's fabulous." So Sondheim ended up paying for an entire session with Harry to record the song as a Christmas present for Judy. Pays to know people in high places.
As far as the original musical from the 80's, there has been a number of adaptations and variations until the present day, including a 1998 version with a gender neutral same-sex couple, and another 2013 New England version using four apartments with two men, two women and two pianists.
Now, International City Theatre (presently in their 37th Anniversary Year) is staging the original two-actor songfest, "Marry Me a Little," running from February 11th through February 27th. The show is perhaps the least known of the Sondheim revues, but one that contains the most atypical material, focusing not on the great hits from "Company," "Sunday in the Park with George" and the like, but lesser known material such as "Can That Boy Foxtrot," "The Girls of Summer," "Bang!" and "A Moment With You."
Stephen Sondheim’s musicals have been called textbook examples of integration — stories told through a seamless fusion of book and songs. And because Sondheim’s tunes easily stand on their own, many other tributes and cobbled-up revues such as “Side by Side by Sondheim,” “Putting It Together” and “Sondheim on Sondheim” have been produced, and has now become a thriving cottage industry.
Among the most creative of those patchworks is this current offering at ICT’s Beverly O’Neill Theater, “Marry Me a Little,” which opened February 11th and still going strong through this coming weekend. The show is directed by Kari Hayter (LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award Nominee for “Parade,” and “Urinetown”), who also teaches musical theatre at the AMDA College of Performing Arts in Los Angeles; caryn desai is the Artistic Director and Producer.
"Marry Me a Little," which was conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman René and uses the device of two emotionally entangled New York singles who inhabit a complex spot in each other's psyches, was considered a first of its kind.
Back then, actor-turned-playwright Lucas (“Prelude to a Kiss”) and the late director René gave themselves quite a challenge: They decided to tell the story of two lonely 20-somethings exclusively through Sondheim songs. And obscure ones at that, having either been cut from major works or featured in minor ones, like the made-for-TV “Evening Primrose” (1966), and “Saturday Night,” a 1955 musical that wasn’t produced until ’97.
It worked. Even though the numbers in the revue were written decades apart from each other, coming from other disparate shows, the upshot adapted ensemble of songs compiled together just felt perfect to tell the story of a pair of lonely Brooklynites looking for love.
A man (Nick Tubbs; “Assassins,” “Forever Plaid”), and a woman (Katy Tang; “Le Nozze di Figaro”-Mediterranean Opera Festival; “She Loves Me”), live in the same apartment complex. It’s a Saturday night in Brooklyn — his apartment is above hers — both are at loose ends. Puttering about their places methodically, they fantasize sophisticated romantic adventures. Occasionally their dreams mesh and they share the same song.
“I’m on my own on a Saturday night,” they sing together yet separately, backed by Music Director Diane King Vann on the piano. “With no one to phone on a Saturday night.”
The revue's centerpieces, ''Marry Me a Little'' and ''Happily Ever After,'' are bittersweet soliloquies which were composed for ''Company'' but superseded there by the more upbeat ''Being Alive.'' So both songs helped the two main characters to imagine the disappointments and compromises of matrimony with a devastating thoroughness and also helped explain their mopey solitude. For this concept, the songs are very important to have the right lyrics. Since the show has no dialogue, with one song following the other, all thoughts and plot movements are told through the lyrics.
ICT's two-person cast is quite impressive. Mr. Tubbs excels vocally with numbers that range from light and bouncy to passionate and heartbreaking, including “Happily Ever After” from Company; “Silly People,” “Uptown, Downtown” and “The Girls of Summer.”
The majority of the songs are duets, however, combining excellent harmonies between Mr. Tubbs and Ms. Tang, such as in “Two Fairy Tales,” from A Little Night Music, “Can That Boy Foxtrot,” “Your Eyes are Blue,” and even a languid song about golf, “Pour le Sport,” written for the unproduced The Last Resorts.
A big personality and talent in her own right, Ms. Tang more than holds her own with lovely renditions of the oeuvre herself, such as “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “There Won’t Be Trumpets,” as well as the title song, “Marry Me a Little,” delivering all the ambiguity you could ever want.
Throughout the trim, hour-long production, it’s clear that these two are meant for each other. Both have a relaxed charm and they both look terrific in their underwear.
Successful relationships have been built on less.
MARRY ME A LITTLE, conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene; Artistic Director/Producer: caryn desai; Director: Kari Hayter; Music Director/Pianist: Diane King Vann; Scenic Designer/Technical Director: JR Norman Luker; Lighting Designer: Donna Ruzika; Resident Costume Designer: Kim DeShazo; Sound Designer: Dave Mickey; Resident Property Designers: Patty and Gordon Briles; Resident Hair and Wig Designer: Anthony Gagliardi; Assoc. Scenic Designer: Nicole Bernardini; Production Stage Manager: John Freeland, Jr.; Assistant Stage Manager: Sarah Dawn Lowry; Publicist: Lucy Pollak.
INTERNATIONAL CITY THEATRE presents MARRY ME A LITTLE; Songs by Stephen Sondheim; Conceived and Developed by Craig Lucas & Norman Rene; Produced Off-Broadway by Diane de Mailly in association with William B. Young; Originally Produced by the Production Company; Running Time: Approx. 60 minutes No Intermission. Playing February 11th through February 27th. For Tickets, please visit: https://ictlongbeach.org/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
All Photo Credits: Photo by Kayte Deioma Creative