Marry Me a Little is a comically vicious little piece of musical theatre that zeroes in on a specific relationship to illuminate the joys and difficulties of romance and, drum roll, commitment. A composer/poet meets an apparent actor and the courtship, and following married-a-little, is brief but action-packed. All the action is told through song and they are glorious songs - they may be pieces that were cut from shows or are somewhat obscure, but Stephen Sondheim's scraps are often more magical than most composers' entrées. Every member of the audience - whether there with a date, a lover or a spouse - couldn't help but experience a moment of wincing identification. There were undoubtedly (I admit to having one) numerous post-show discussions of the intimate workings of relationships, Sondheim's music and lyrics may be clever (and frequently bleak) but they are brutally insightful.
If the songs had been strung together in a cabaret format it would have been an entertaining evening, but the focus would have been on the sterling qualities of the music, lyrics and performances. Structuring Marry Me a Little as a piece of musical theatre draws the audience in and gives a loose narrative to structure what would, with lesser material and a weaker book (Craig Lucas of Prelude to a Kiss fame is as clever as Sondheim but much funnier), be a jukebox musical. It is a bit insider to have both characters both be involved in musical theatre - and the theatre jokes and wordplay did get knowing laughs from the opening night audience composed of seasoned theatre goers, professionals, wannabes and critics - but the set is familiarly down scale and the performers are so engaging that they become representative of everyone who has experienced love, lust and the terror of losing oneself in a relationship.
Adrian Marchuk downplays his handsomeness with a nerdy look but, as soon as he sings or quietly flaunts his hunky physicality, he holds the audience's attention with ease. The lyrics are tricky and the music highly structured but his remarkable voice turns it all into easy conversation. Though Marry Me a Little posits him as the villain - if being self-centred and sexually callous is evil as opposed to just part of being male - he is so charming and in such good voice that he is irresistible. (It doesn't hurt that he is frequently in his underwear though, tragically, never only just underwear.) When a particularly complicated - and blatantly showy - set of rhymes threaten to derail the show by pulling us out of it, Marchuk gives a self-satisfied smug smile to let the audience in on the joke. It is a star performance played with casual ease.
Elodie Gillett has the only big showstopper of a number but her character is a bit of a cipher and she is subjected to more clichés and passivity. Most of the time she downplays her sexiness and is an everywoman with a fragility that contradicts the power of her voice and the length of her gams. One longs to hear her belt and blossom but that would be a much different show. Marry Me a Little isn't interested in "Happily Ever After," it is too busy dissecting the ways we get in the way of achieving that state. When the final song is titled "It Wasn't Meant to Happen," no-one is expecting a feel-good musical but Gillett and Marchuk are so compelling that Marry Me a Little becomes one.
Either the director, Adam Brazier, or the performers have injected a lot of physicality into Marry Me a Little and they romp across the stage, managing to sing flawlessly even when involved in tightly synchronized choreography and semi-acrobatics. It is naturalistic while being far beyond the capabilities of mere mortals - much like Sondheim's oeuvre.
Marry Me a Littlecontinues until Sun, April 6 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. tarragontheatre.com