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Connect with ‘Marry Me a Little’

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When Stephen Sondheim passed away last November, the loss to the world of musical theater was incalculable. Jerry Hermann (Hello Dolly!; granny; La Cage aux Folles) was perhaps the master of driving and sentimental hymns; Stephane Schwartz (spell; Nasty) can be the poet of spiritual struggles; but no one is more inspiring and influential or has pushed the boundaries of commercial theater further than Sondheim. Who else could write a musical about American presidential assassins or the creation of a painting? Each Sondheim project presented a challenge to the public, from Company at Follies at Sweeney Todd. He was obsessed with the art of telling a story with songs. His music was complex and moving; his words were exquisite. The fusion of the two was a unique experience.

Brittany Rolfs and Sam Perwin, together but apart, sing about love and sex in Stephen Sondheim’s Marry Me a Little, which is currently playing at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre. (Photo by Michael and Suz Karchmer)

To honor Sondheim’s legacy, the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater revives Marry me a little, a 1980 journal created by Craig Lucas (Prelude to a kiss; the film long time companion) and Norman René who incorporated 18 songs taken from Sondheim’s musicals before they opened (except for the title track, which was taken from Company, then reinstated in revivals). Sung by an anonymous man and woman in separate apartments who are drawn to each other, these numbers are the full show: there is no added dialogue or narration.

Six of the songs from Marry me a little were cut from Follies, Sondheim’s scathing account of a reunion of Ziegfeld Follies girls and the emotional disasters in their lives since their glory days.

The frustration of relationships that are ultimately unsatisfying is a frequent Sondheim theme, as is the difficulty of maintaining commitment and intimacy. In his hands, romance is almost always a dysfunctional proposition.

However Marry me a little is tightly focused, the WHAT production, directed and designed by the company’s Artistic Director Producer, Christopher Ostrom, is lavish. The whole, raised, presents parallel apartments gathered in the center in a beautiful and dramatic vision of urban modernity. Musical director Kevin Quill accompanies the actors on the piano from the balcony. The two protagonists, Brittany Rolfs and Sam Perwin, are attractive and convincing. They flirt, meet briefly, and separately and in unison articulate the hopes and doubts of a relationship.

Brittany Rolfs and Sam Perwin, in a rare moment sharing the same space, in Stephen Sondheim’s Marry Me a Little, now play WHAT.

Rolfs has a loud voice and occasional belts; Perwin has a soft voice tinged with nostalgia. The couple inhabit their musical numbers as if they were a second skin.

The songs themselves are so intricate and intriguing that it’s hard to understand why they were cut. Take “Marry Me a Little”, for example; it expresses a couple’s interest in limiting closeness in their relationship – perfect for the musical Company, about a 35-year-old perennial bachelor: “We won’t go too far/ We won’t go too far/ We won’t have anything to give up/ We will stay who we are.

And there is also humor. “Can That Boy Foxtrot”, cut from Follies, describes the primacy of sex, with a basic dance move replacing the F-word: “His mouth is mean / He ain’t too clean / What makes him reptilian is brilliantine / But oh, that boy can he foxtrot… As the dumbbells go / He’s kinda slow/ And as for being holy, even dimly, no/ But who needs Albert Schweitzer when the lights are dim?

Barring a cover of one of Sondheim’s masterpieces, Marry me a little is a great summer diversion. It offers the neophyte a taste of his talent, and those already familiar can enjoy a compelling staging of repurposed songs – songs that otherwise couldn’t be seen in context. Even the restless and always dissatisfied Sondheims would be impressed by this fine production.

A little tense music

The event: Marry me a little, a musical of songs by Stephen Sondheim
Time: Until July 22, Tuesday to Saturday (and Monday July 18) at 8 p.m.
The place: Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre, 2357 Route 6
The cost: $25 to $40; seniors $22.50 to $36; students $15; plus $2.50 fee at what.org or 508-349-9428