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Musical Artists Theatre Company offers nostalgia with 'I Do, I Do'

I Do, I Do, a nostalgic two-person musical being put on by the Musical Artists Theatre Company this weekend, is well-suited to Chesapeake Arts Center's intimate 110-seat Studio Theatre.

The final performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, and for 3 p.m. Sunday.

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On the evening I attended, the theater seemed full -- even though about half the seats were occupied -- by an audience of apparent regulars. A few people in the first row were engaging in subdued repartee with the principals. Although I ordinarily would have been annoyed at such audience involvement, here I found that it added to the ambience and underscored the establishment of a regular Chesapeake Arts audience.

Musical Artists Theatre is a professional company that presents original musicals and contemporary American works. Earlier productions include Rags to Riches and last season's Dreamland.

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For the Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt musical I Do, I Do, Ruth and Michael Hulett from Dreamland returned to the Studio Theatre stage, lending their vocal and acting talents along with their genuine Mr. and Mrs. credentials to the roles of Agnes and Michael.

Having created The Fantasticks, Jones and Schmidt delivered a show in 1966 that must have seemed quaintly nostalgic, even during the Vietnam War era. The original Broadway production featured Mary Martin and Robert Preston singing us through the highs and lows of a 50-year marriage.

Based on Jan de Hartog's play The Four Poster, the musical traces a marriage from the wedding night in 1905 of the sexually naive Agnes and Michael until they leave their home in 1955.

For the most part, Michael and Ruth Hulett pull off the demands of this two-character play, which requires them to be alone onstage for nearly two hours. Both are skilled actors whose real-life relationship lends credibility to their performances. Although Ruth is the stronger singer, Michael holds his own except occasionally in sustaining long notes.

In the show's opening number, "I Do, I Do," we meet the bridal couple dressed in their wedding finery. Both actors bring off a convincing portrayal of this decades-younger couple, and later do well by the show's most successful song, "My Cup Runneth Over," investing it with warm sentiment.

As Agnes, Ruth Hulett enjoys her romp through the comic "Flaming Agnes" and later provides a genuinely moving rendition of "What is a Woman?"

With "It's a Well-Known Fact," Michael Hulett clearly relishes enumerating the ways that men age more gracefully than women. His "Father of the Bride" comically echoes the universal theme of a father's doubting that his daughter's groom is good enough for her.

Director Peggy Donohue Dorsey keeps the action moving smoothly with an inspired onstage transformation of both actors that enables us to see some of the makeup tricks employed to show the aging process.

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I was not as struck with the Huletts' dancing in their Dreamland excursion as I was here, perhaps reflecting what the couple has learned from the teachings of I Do choreographer Jason M. Kimmell.

Ruth Hulett also proved that she possesses formidable costume-designing talents in a full wardrobe of attractive, authentic period costumes that move well and flatter the actors.

This musical not only takes us back to a simpler time, but also expresses unchanging truths about enduring marriages in the cozy ambience of the theater.

Tickets: 410-636-6597.


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