It seems somehow fitting that the first two-hander musical to be staged on Broadway should follow the fortunes, and misfortunes, of a married couple over a time span of fifty years, and subsequent productions of I Do! I Do! have attracted big stars, including Rock Hudson in one London revival.
This latest production, directed by Joseph Hodges at Upstairs at The Gatehouse, may not have Hollywood royalty, but it does have an updated book from original writer, Tom Jones, plus a new song being heard for the first time here in London.
Beginning in 1890, it is Michael and Agnes’s wedding night and with the ‘I Do’s’ having just been said, they are on the very cusp of their new life together, but just how long can the honeymoon period last? Over the course of half a century, and set entirely in the marital bedroom, children are born and grow up, and money worries are alleviated when Michael becomes a successful writer, but there’s the hint that not even royalty cheques can buy happiness.
Remembering that this musical is set across the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and that it was itself written in the 1960’s, it is very much a musical of its time. It is, at times, saccharine sweet and full of the gaieties of life, but our Michael is at best less than chivalrous, and at worst a selfish misogynist, allowing us to poke fun at the stereotypical husband of the era.
So it is Agnes that becomes the most interesting of the two characters in terms of development, progressing from the submissive wife to a confident and independent woman, “I can’t die behind the stove like some domestic animal,” she declares before revealing she plans to write a play about a married couple in a meta theatrical twist.
Harvey Schmidt’s score lilts along with the shmaltzy storyline, making I Do! I Do! a very easy watch, the songs just seem to fit like an old comfortable nightshirt, and as an audience we don’t feel overly challenged, but there is enough variation to keep our attention.
Gemma Maclean and Ben Morris have a very natural rapport, they are equally believable as the adoring couple in love as they are as a bickering duo. Gemma Maclean delivers two particularly enjoyable solo numbers in the form of ‘Flaming Agnes’ and ‘What is a Woman?’, while the entire score is gently and skilfully played on piano by musical director Henry Brennan.
I Do! I Do! deals primarily in romanticism, but it delves just a little deeper to show us it in the context of times gone by. This may seem a little old fashioned to modern audiences, but these more innocent times play host to a musical that walks us down the aisle and vows to entertain us.