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Marry Me a Little by Stephen Sondheim

| Theatre | 04/08/2014

Simon Bailey and Laura Pitt-Pulford in MARRY ME A LITTLE at St James Studio. PHOTO CREDIT Roy Tan (4)
Simon Bailey and Laura Pitt-Pulford in MARRY ME A LITTLE at St James Studio. PHOTO CREDIT Roy Tan
Rating:

The breathtaking Laura Pitt-Pulford and charisma-laden Simon Bailey portray the inner workings of two New York singles; living tragically close to each other, but destined to be alone.

Hannah Chissick’s intimate production proves once more that even the widely acknowledged master of contemporary musical theatre, Stephen Sondheim, is not always right about the merits of theatrical endeavour. When concept writer Craig Lucas sent Sondheim a postcard asking to create a production from his large collection of cut and unpublished songs, the Don of showbiz agreed, adding that it was a ‘terrible idea’. Marry Me a Little went on to enjoy a sell out first season.

Shoot forward thirty years and the Studio at St James Theatre, with it’s shoe-box size and cabaret-style seating, replicates the conditions which gave the play’s New York debut in the winter of 1980 such popular and critical acclaim.

The living room of a cosy New York apartment sets the stage for Bailey’s entrance. Clearly wrapped up in his own thoughts, he fails to notice the entrance of Pitt-Pulford. The juxtaposition of their togetherness in vocal harmony with  the contrary lines they sing throughout the play supports our suspicion that we are presented not with a couple in an apartment, but with two singles in two different apartments.

Simon Bailey and Laura Pitt-Pulford in MARRY ME A LITTLE at St James Studio. PHOTO CREDIT Roy Tan (7)

In one song Pitt-Pulford conjours two suitors asking her to dance in an impressive feat of fast choreography. As she switches from impersonating a well spoken gentleman to a street-savvy young man, she marks the difference by switching her cap from forward-facing to back. Pitt-Pulford’s voice hints at the Operatic, while Bailey’s fine tenor provides a toothsome harmony.

Simon Bailey in MARRY ME A LITTLE at St James Studio. PHOTO CREDIT Roy Tan

The fifth song, ‘Bang’ is perhaps the best executed, in which Bailey’s egotism is well matched against Pitt-Pulford’s waning resistance. The scene sees the duo make the most of the small stage as ‘Man’ lifts ‘Woman’ from the floor, to the coffee table; ending on the sofa in an inevitably steamy crescendo. Lighting Designer Derek Anderson’s warm lighting echoes the passion in the air, while later his pale spotlight on Pitt-Pulford’s face adds to the image of anguish.

Laura Pitt-Pulford in MARRY ME A LITTLE at St James Studio. PHOTO CREDIT Roy Tan

Craig Lucas and René Norman create an intentionally non-specific love affair by naming the characters simply ‘man’ and ‘woman’, leaving the audience to decide whether the fling is real or imagined. In Chissick’s production this ambiguity is accompanied by an echo of defiant loneliness throughout. Indeed, when the final song comes around with the refrain; ‘It Wasn’t Meant To Happen’, despite our suspicion that there is no real relationship on the line, we cannot help but mourn the loss of what could have been. Using Sondheim’s masterpieces as building blocks, this performance is packed with talent and intrigue.

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