Marry Me A Little the review of Stephen Sondheim songs currently playing at The St James Theatre Studio was first conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene in 1980.
Having been a chorus member in the original cast of Sweeney Todd on Broadway the previous year, Craig Lucas got to know Stephen Sondheim, and more importantly to know that Sondheim had a trunk-full of cast-offs, off-cuts, and unperformed songs from his previous shows, and from projected works which had never seen the light of day.
Remembering these songs, when tasked with providing a late night entertainment which would be performed after the play SRO (Single Room Occupancy) then on at the theatre for which he was working, Lucas sent Sondheim a postcard asking for permission to go ahead with creating a musical revue, which was to utilise the same simple set as the play.
Fortunately Sondheim sent him back forty-five, from which he chose the seventeen which go to make up the show we see today.
I say ‘show’ and there is indeed a suggested narrative theme, though it’s actually more properly a song-cycle for two people named as simply ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ and played here respectively by Simon Bailey and Laura Pitt-Pulford.
The overall suggestion of plot is that a couple are breaking up, and going about the necessity of splitting and boxing up the physical manifestation of their relationship; the books, CD’s and objets d’art which define their time together. We are then transported back in time to see how they got to where they were, eventually finding ourselves back where we started.
Simon Bailey is an excellent and rugged ‘Man’ not only singing the role to perfection, but acting the songs with an extremely convincing emotional range, and admirable commitment which actually made me wonder at times whether he’d get to the end of some of the songs, or break down and cry.
Laura Pitt-Pulford has a voice which is a little less strong, but again shows what an extremely versatile singing actress she is.
I won’t bother to list all the songs – go and see the show! – but some of the highlights are Pitt-Pulford’s rendition of ‘Can That Boy Foxtrot!’ (which was cut from Follies and replaced with ‘I’m still here’), ‘Bang!’, cut from a Little Night Music – and a very sexy duet between the lovers – and perhaps the most emotionally charged song of the evening ‘Silly People’ again cut from ‘A Little Night Music’, but featuring a gut-wrenching performance from Bailey which steals the show.
There are a couple of quite well known songs in the show, the best known undoubtedly being ‘Marry Me a Little’ from Company (here given a nice spin sung by Pitt-Pulford) and ‘There Won’t be Trumpets’(again sung by Pitt-Pulford) but by the very nature of the songs which go to make up the show, most of what’s on offer isn’t that well known, though some of the songs have earned a life through subsequent recording, outside of the show for which they were originally written. Some of them haven’t, and to be charitable, are unlikely to…
Echoing the original production, the evening is staged with faultless precision by Hannah Chissick on Simon Anthony Wells’ brilliantly and simply conceived and perfectly dressed naturalistic set.
If I have one gripe against the show it’s about the pacing. The songs are run straight into one another with no space for the release of tension (by clapping). After a while this gets a bit wearisome, and I admit I had started to lose engagement. Seventy five minutes is a very long time for a musical theatre audience to sit without showing their appreciation.