For so many people across the world, 2020 will be remembered as the year they spent more time alone than ever before. Such prolonged periods of isolation will have forced many to reflect on their lives, to re-evaluate their hopes and dreams, and to generally take stock of their existence. For these strange times, Stephen Sondheim’s one act musical revue, Marry Me A Little seems like an ideal production to stage, and it comes to Cirencester’s Barn Theatre.
The two protagonists in Marry Me A Little are alone, each in their New York apartments, the two characters are connected but never actually ‘meet’, instead imagining what they would say to each other, and the secrets they would share if such an encounter were to take place. It’s entirely sung through, and while there’s no concrete plot, this production has developed the idea that this pair are going through a breakup.
This concept works exceptionally well; previous versions had the couple as potential lovers that were denied the chance, but under Kirk Jameson’s direction, it feels like the show has a purpose, and there’s just enough of a story for the audience to allow their imaginations to take over. A welcome surprise, given that it runs at just an hour, is how well Rob Houchen and Celinde Schoenmaker develop their respective characters in the time given, and that means that we care about this couple and how their lives will eventually turn out.
Marry Me A Little is comprised of a collection of ‘trunk’ songs; numbers which were cut from the final productions of other Sondheim musicals, there are several from Follies, as well as A Little Night Music and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and the title comes from one of Company’s catchier tunes. For a few of them, it’s clear why they didn’t make the final cut where originally intended, but it’s still a rich treasure trove of Sondheim magic that will delight fans and intrigue first-timers.
Gregor Donnelly’ set looks fantastic, the two apartments are fused together, with the line between them distinct yet blurred. Mementos of long-gone happier days adorn the walls and the LCD screens, which predominantly show the New York skyline view from each apartment, are also used to display photographs, text messages and occasionally Tinder profiles.
Rob Houchen and Celinde Schoenmaker are a match made in heaven, which is perhaps why the fictional couple’s break-up feels all the more traumatic to the audience. Schoenmaker’s performance of the title song is terrific, while Houchen stirs empathy for his character with an undeniable charm and moments of real poignancy.
Musical revues can sometimes prove a little tricky for audiences to get their heads around, especially here where the songs are an assortment from more established musicals. But this production of Marry Me A Little is a glorious reimagining of Sondheim’s unheard gems, which puts the audience at the heart of the show. A wonderful way to bring people together, in a year that has forced so many of us apart.
Rob Houchen and Celinde Schoenmaker star in the new revival production of Marry Me A Little in Cirencester until 8 November. Tickets are on sale here.