Review: Marry Me a Little (Porchlight Music Theatre)

| April 23, 2017

Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas star in Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre 2           
      
 

Marry Me a Little

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Conceived by Craig Lucas, Norman Rene
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
thru May 21  |  tix: $38-$51  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


    
  

An epic journey of emotion and music

  

Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas star in Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre 4

    
Porchlight Music Theatre presents
    
Marry Me a Little

Review by Catey Sullivan

Ladies and gents, give it up for Bethany Thomas and Austin Cook. If there’s a more ferociously simpatico musical duo on stage right now, I’ll eat my typewriter (google it kids. It’s a thing).

Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas star in Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre 3In Porchlight’s 70-minutes two-hander romance of Stephen Sondheim out-takes, Cook and Thomas deliver sonic wonders and emotional depth. The songs of Marry Me a Little might not have made it into the shows they were originally penned for, but on Porchlight’s stage they are gorgeous, essential and bursting with emotion.

Director Jess McLeod makes the show’s significant narrative shortcomings negligible. The plot is flimsy, but the music tells a million stories. With Cook serving as music director as well as star, Marry Me a Little offers a rare glimpse at lesser-known Sondheim songs. Cut from shows both famous (Follies, Forum, Company, Into the Woods, A Little Night Music), obscure (Saturday Night, The Girls of Summer) and in between (Roadshow, Merrily We Roll Along), the tunes from Marry Me a Little travel the emotional spectrum from agony to ecstasy.

On the surface, Marry Me a Little is a retread of one of the oldest tales in the history of storytelling. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl break up. Life goes on. What makes this clichéd tale work is the music and lyrics that tell it and the performers entrusted with them. You’ve probably seen this plot before. But you’ve never seen it voiced like this.

Anyone with a glancing familiarity of Chicagoland’s musical theater landscape knows that Cook and Thomas are prodigious talents. Cook’s abilities with a keyboard are flat-out, no-argument breathtaking. Technically, he’s a master. Beyond technique, he can take the simplest root chord and shade it with infinite colors. Whether he’s thundering through an iconic Grieg passage or a delicate-as-air Sondheim cadenza, Cook makes the piano keys speak as clearly as a Shakespearean sonnet. Moreover, he makes it look effortless. On top of this, Cook’s orchestrations (the show is usually performed with just a piano accompaniment) are absolutely gorgeous.

Thomas has an equally virtuosic voice. Her range goes from the rich, autumnal tones of a contralto to the gossamer, upper reaches of a mezzo soprano. Her concert career is more prolific than her career as a leading lady in musical theater – which is all the more reason to see her kill it in Marry Me a Little.

Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas star in Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre 1

Marry Me a Little begins with The Man (Cook) wailing on his piano, home alone deep in the heart of a Saturday night. The Woman (Thomas) lives below, and she’s also spending the prime of the weekend solo. Initially she’s intrigued by the torrent of music cascading from above – but it doesn’t take long for the noise to grow irksome. As The Man goes ever deeper into his music, The Woman begins pounding on the ceiling with a broom handle.

When they confront each other, mutual antagonism quickly becomes mutual intrigue. Their chemistry pulses like a strobe light. As Sondheim’s score travels through lust, love, ecstasy, serenity, disillusionment and regret, so do The Man and the Woman. Inevitably and eventually, the light dims and the heat cools. Cynicism and dissatisfaction creep in. Passion fades into bittersweet memory.

Throughout, Cook and Thomas are incandescent. When the two soar through the title song “Marry Me a Little,” they create a sensation that’s akin to flight – the lyrics feel winged, the happiness and yearning they describe seems airborne. “If You Can Find Me” swoops down to the other end of the spectrum, with Cook stalking the stage like a restless panther, his face glowering like a thundercloud.

Thomas brings down the house with “Foxtrot,” a hilarious celebration of a no-strings hook-up. And with “I Remember Sky,” she embodies that paradoxically beautiful form of sorrow that feels almost feels like happiness. As for the shows treacherously intricate duets (“Two Fairy Tales,” “Who Could be Blue” among them), they are seamless. Ditto the all-important segues between numbers.

Austin Cook stars in Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre

Cook’s music direction shows that he’s as deft at leading as he is performing. Among other intricate challenges, Marry Me a Little requires coordinating a fluid blend between The Man’s bravissimo solo piano performances and the orchestra perched high above the stage. Logistically and sonically, the job of integrating the two is a beast. Marry Me a Little makes it look easy, and as natural as breath. Kudos go to conductor Charlotte Rivard-Hoster, who both handles the orchestra’s keyboards and makes a quartet (including percussionist Tony Scandora, cellist Lewis Rawlinson and flautist/clarinetist Cara Hartz) sound much, much larger.

Jeff Kmiec’s set design creates two cozy apartments, each one filled with clues about the lives and passions of The Man and The Woman. The Man’s space is – of course – dominated by a museum-worthy grand piano. The Woman’s is filled with photography equipment that speak to a visually creative soul.

Marry Me a Little clocks in at just over an hour, but the journey it travels – both musically and emotionally – is epic.

  
Rating: ★★★★
  

Marry Me a Little continues through May 21st at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 4pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $38-$51, and are available by phone (773-327-5252) or online through Vendini.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at PorchlightMusicTheatre.org(Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes, no intermission)

Austin Cook and Bethany Thomas star in Marry Me a Little, Porchlight Music Theatre 5

Photos by Brandon Dahlquist


  

artists

cast

Bethany Thomas (The Woman), Austin Cook (The Man), Liz Bollar, Patrick Byrnes (understudies)

band

Charlotte Rivard-Hoster (piano, conductor), Tony Scandora (percussion), Lewis Rawlinson (cello), Cara Hartz (flute, clarinet)

behind the scenes

Jess McLeod (director), Austin Cook (music director, orchestrations), Jeff Kmiec (set design), Stephanie Cluggish (costume design), Gabrielle Chabot (asst. costume design), Becca Jeffords (lighting design), Keegan Bradac (sound design, sound board engineer), Mealah Heidenreich (props), Ashlee Ruth Wiseman (stage management), Laura Gray, Matthew Nadler (asst. stage manager), Rachel West (master electrician), Jessica Howe (scenic artist), Shelby Brand (wardrobe supervisor), Jordan Fleming (house manager), Laura Gray (asst. house manager), Alex Rhyan (production management), Johnnie Schleyer (technical director), Benjamin Nichols (music assistant), Michael Weber (artistic director), Jeannie Lukow (executive director), Stage Channel (video production), Brandon Dahlquist (photos)

17-0429

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Musical, Porchlight Music Theatre, Stage 773, Stephen Sondheim, Video

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.

Comments are closed.