by Tony Schillaci & Don Church, Critics On The Aisle™
Take two terrific actors who have classic Broadway musical voices, give them a slew of hummable songs, place them in a set that is dominated by a fourposter bed, add a couple of talented pianists to play the score, and you’ve got a night (or matinee) of entertainment that is perfect summer-theater. fare.
The strong audience demand to see “I Do! I Do!” that the glorious Westport Country Playhouse has had to extend the run for three extra performances on Thursday, September 2 through Saturday, Sept. 4th.
It stars the much-praised Tony Award-nominee Kate Baldwin (“Finian’s Rainbow”) and Drama Desk Award-nominee Lewis Cleale (“Swinging on a Star”). The two-act, two-person show follows a duo, Agnes and Michael, from marriage through old age, with the various ups and downs associated with coupledom.
Tossed into this mix of the kissy-poo, lovey dovey, sugar- coated view of married is the advent of having children, an affair, a confrontation, reconciliation, boredom, children’s marriages, the threat of separation, more reconciliation and the blissful relief of old age. This is marriage idealized and sentimentalized ad nauseum even though lyricist Tom Jones did a bit of rewriting to make the tough times in a marriage resonate for today’s audiences. It was largely successful in showing the wide acting range of its two musical comedy stars.
But, not to despair – each phase of the marriage is accompanied by the lilting melodies of Harvey Schmidt coupled the meaningful and well-crafted lyrics by Tom Jones (“The Fantasticks”) who are
masters of Broadway words and music.
Kate and Lewis deliver each song deliciously, and several of the numbers have become standards: “What Is a Woman” and “My Cup Runneth Over.” The score is sung clearly and pitch-perfect by both Baldwin and Cleale, who deliver equally enthusiastic and seamless acting performances, under the sure-handed direction of the Tony–nominated and Obie-Winning Susan H. Schulman.
In addition to acting and singing, Kate and Lewis also have the daunting task of being prop masters, stage hands, and dressers. They move and remake the fourposter bed innumerable times during the two plus hours that they are in character, while also moving props to and fro and changing costumes on stage.
Depending upon which part of the program you read, the book covers either twenty-five or fifty years of marriage (we vote for fifty), yet the dominance of “he” over the subservience of “she” changes little. For those looking at marriage as an equal partnership, one has to recognize that this particular couple never achieves that goal. This was marriage in another time, another place in history.
Even when Agnes rebels, in the campy “Flaming Agnes” number, and the couple agree that “The Honeymoon is Over,” and later she gives into his father-knows-best whims, the book reflects an old-fashioned idea when love, honor and obey were rules for women, not for men.
The actors reflect the same kind of star turns that made the Broadway original, with Mary Martin and Robert Preston, a success. This show cries out for that benchmark level of shear talent, and Kate Baldwin and Lewis Cleale deliver memorably.
Once again Domonic Sack created a sound design that is flawless; every word, every note is heard and understood. The pianists, Alexander Boroson and Joel Fram, fill the theater with resounding music that is as effective as that of a full orchestra. And the costumes by Devon Painter allow us to pass from decade to decade without program notes….even the undergarments are statements of the era depicted.
“I Do! I Do!” is one of those shows in which the music, lyrics and performers outshine the play. Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy the Broadway talents of Kate Baldwin and Lewis Cleale singing Schmidt and Jones, especially at the picturesque Westport Country Playhouse with its red-barn ambiance – a perfect setting for this period musical of love and marriage.
“I Do! I Do!” plays through Sept 4th at the Westport Country Playhouse. Tickets 203.227.4177 or www.westportplayhouse.org
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