Marry Me A Little

Reviewer's Rating

‘Marry Me A Little’ is a compilation of ‘trunk’ songs from the Sondheim catalogue that was put together as long ago as 1980 and regularly revived since on both sides of the Atlantic. While the selection has occasionally varied, most derive from the 1970s, the composer’s most fecund decade, together with a scattering from his very first and hardly known musical, ‘Saturday Night’. If one song sums up the mood of the whole it is ‘Happily Ever After’, the original ending of ‘Company’, which was rejected by Hal Prince as a ‘downer.’ We are in the world of edgy, anxious Manhattan singletons, where loneliness and longing for connection are the main themes. Each song is a miniature scene or character vignette in itself, where romantic hopes are raised only to be dashed by over-thinking and introspective doubt.

The songs are divided between two performers, simply designated as ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’. The premise assumes that they occupy separate apartments in the same building, aware of each other’s existence, but never meeting. Instead they inhabit the same set, at times duetting together, but never engaging directly. The show lasts just under an hour, which seems about right, both as a showcase for some wonderfully observed and executed materials, and for the representation of a brittle, lovelorn mood of urban angst and sophistication which might need more variety in an extended evening.

Both performers are quite excellent, on top of the many technical challenges the composer throws at them, while also acting inventively to ensure there is always movement and dynamics in putting the songs across. It helps that this is an intimate setting where they do not have to rely on amplification and can dare to sing softly and confidingly to draw the audience into their thought world. Shelley Rivers is fully on top of the slalom-course that the lyrics can present, and though her tone can spread a little under pressure, she rises to the challenge of stand out numbers such as the title ong and  ‘There won’t be trumpets’. Markus Sodergren has the darker, more cynical material, moving from swagger and confidence to despair by finely graded increments and rare vocal finesse. I look forward to seeing him in a full-length Sondheim musical.

There is no dialogue, which places a considerable burden on the accompanist, Aaron Clingham, playing from a single keyboard. He sets the pace and moves the action onwards with zest, finding many gradations of tone along the way. Hearing this material without orchestra allows you to appreciate just how much of the work in a Sondheim song goes on in the accompaniment, always offering a rhythmic and melodic counterpoint and commentary on the singer’s line. People say sometimes that with this composer melody is sacrificed to lyric, whereas if you listen carefully there is actually a melodic dialectic at work.

My one caveat focuses on the setting. This is a small stage, and it is very cluttered with furniture to suggest the sub-divisions of an apartment. There is not much room for manoeuvre and at times it seemed something of a distracting obstacle course for the performers. A simpler ‘black-box’ background with just a few significant props might have worked better, trusting in the quality of both singers and the material. I was also not convinced that so many costume changes were needed, burdensome for the singers and of no major benefit to the audience. The songs do the main work themselves in creating atmosphere – as Sondheim often said himself, ‘Less is more.’

That said, this is a distinguished and promising start for this new venue which deserves some coverage here in its own right. The Stage Door Theatre sits above the ‘Prince of Wales’ pub in an area of town where there is no similar competition. It is a large high-ceilinged upper floor, offering dining and the show as a package, which should have real customer appeal. The acoustic and sight-lines are good, and the roster of shows in Robert McWhir’s first season promises well. This is definitely a space to look out for.


Conceived by Craig Lucas & Norman Rene

Venue: Stage Door Theatre

Performers: Shelley Rivers & Markus Sodergren

Director: Robert McWhir

Musical Director; Aaron Clingham

Until 13 April 2024

Running Time; 55 minutes

Photo Credit: Peter Davies