'Marry Me a Little': surprisingly happy union


OLNEY -- "Marry Me a Little" is the unconventional marriage of 17 Stephen Sondheim songs that were either cut from musicals or written for musicals that were never produced.

Back in 1980, when playwright Craig Lucas and director Norman Rene asked Mr. Sondheim's permission to assemble the show, the composer reportedly replied, "I think it's a terrible idea, but go ahead."

However, the structure they devised actually works -- for the most part. It's built around two single New Yorkers spending Saturday night alone in separate, but identical apartments. And somehow it holds together without a single word of spoken dialogue.

But there's a major shortcoming. Largely due to the fact that the songs spring from a slew of divergent sources, this clever but thin format doesn't allow for much character development -- or at least that's the way it seems at Olney Theatre, where the pair is being portrayed by Tia Speros and David Hibbard, under the joint direction of Bill Graham Jr. and Jim Petosa.

Still, "Marry Me a Little" is primarily a vehicle for songs, not character, and most of those songs are a delight, particularly when sung by the highly expressive Ms. Speros.

She's especially amusing singing "Can That Boy Fox-Trot." Cut from "Follies" during its Boston tryout, the song extols the virtues of a grocery clerk who can't dance, "but, boy, can that boy f-f-f-fox-trot!"

Although Mr. Hibbard lacks the range and vocal control of his co-star -- his intonation is off in many of their duets -- he brings an energetic presence to his numbers, at times dancing on the furniture, counter tops and even the refrigerator.

And both performers are up to the challenge of Mr. Sondheim's witty but demanding lyrics. No one since Noel Coward or perhaps Cole Porter has been able to wrap his music around rhymes as nimble as those in "Uptown, Downtown" (also excised from "Follies"), the tale of "hyphenated Harriet, the nouveau from New Rochelle," a social climber who "thinks of the Ritz, oh, she's so schizo."

"Marry Me a Little" includes material dating back to 1954 when Mr. Sondheim hoped to make his Broadway debut with "Saturday Night," a show that faded into oblivion after its producer died. Nowadays, the composer's musicals seem to be getting darker and darker -- his most recent was "Assassins." Though this little cobbled-together revue is frothy by comparison, it proves that second-hand Sondheim is far from second-rate.

"Marry Me a Little" continues at Olney Theatre through Oct. 13; call (301) 924-3400.

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