Review: Marry Me a Little (Tarragon Theatre)

Tarragon Theater, Marry Me A Little

A love story musical for Sondheim fans, Marry Me a Little is playing at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre

Marry Me a Little is a musical for Sondheim fans currently playing at Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. My phrasing is deliberate. While the music and lyrics are written by Stephen Sondheim, this particular show is a patchwork that was conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman René. Taking songs that were cut from early Sondheim musicals, they’ve strung them together to suggest a bittersweet love story.

Let me set the scene for you: There is a gorgeous loft apartment. Yes, it really is stunning. Ken MacDonald has created an urban bohemian dream—exposed brick, large windows, high ceilings. Into this artsy wonderland, drops a Man and a Woman. They are never named. At first, we don’t know much about them except that they both work in musical theatre—he’s a songwriter and she’s an actress.

Through not-so-well-known Sondheim songs, they revel in the single life, then meet each other. They have little conflicts as they try to live together. There are some sad bits and some funny bits. She asks him to “marry her a little”, he gets cold feet; they go their separate ways.

There is a lot of skill showcased in this production. We have Sondheim’s infinitely clever lyrics. (I can’t even say “Sondheim” without feeling giddy.) We have a beautiful set. We have some very talented and enthusiastic performers—Adrian Marchuk and Elodie Gillet. Disappointingly, it all adds up to something a little bit, well… hollow.

Director Adam Brazier has crafted a visually dynamic production. The actors twirl and flip, dash and sashay, around the very pretty set dressing. There is a lot of business: quick costumes changes, bed-making, packing and unpacking of suitcases. Their movements are precise and fluid without ever becoming actual dance routines. The vibrant lighting design by Gareth Crew constantly shifts to highlight changes in mood, suggesting sun-drenched mornings and moonlit nights.

There is scant story here. We are given some indication that she is somewhat more committed to the notion of a solid relationship than he, but that is the only conflict, and it doesn’t quite ring true; I was too aware of the conceptual maneuvering required to fit the disparate songs into the scheme. All of the pieces fit together, and each is polished so it shines, but the whole doesn’t contain any real drama.

I didn’t hum any tunes on the way home. I didn’t rush to YouTube to seek out streamed samples to share with my Facebook friends. There is nothing shoddy about it, mind you. It’s got grand style, high production values, and most of the packed audience seemed quite taken with it.

Considering how wonderful each element is, I owe it to you to be very clear about why it didn’t quite hook me. I want musical theatre (or any piece of theatre) to use its elements to give me some insight into people and their situation. The core of this production isn’t the characters and their plight. The story here is just a frame, on which the true purpose of the show is hung.

Marry Me a Little is about the musical theatre icon himself: Stephen Sondheim and the character of his artistry. It is a tribute piece—an elaborate concert. I became bored with the onstage business because it wasn’t compelling on its own terms; it was crafted as a showcase for Sondheim. Of course, there is some irony here: Sondheim, as a songwriter, is a master of revealing insights into character and situation.

It didn’t resonant with me, but Marry Me a Little is an impressive feat of showmanship—on all counts.

Details:

  • Marry Me a Little is playing at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgeman Avenue) until April 6.
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:30PM
  • There are additional Saturday Matinees at 2:30PM on March 8, 15, and 22
  • Tickets are $21 to $53 (with discounts for students, senior and groups), ad $13 rush tickets at the door on Fridays and Sundays
  • Tickets can be purchased by calling Patron Services at 416.531.1827 or online

Photo of Elodie Gillet and Adrian Marchuck by Cylla von Tiedemann