note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Man … Drew Poling
Woman … Leigh Barrett
Stephen Sondheim is not entirely to blame for MARRY ME A LITTLE, the downbeat little show now playing at the Gloucester Stage Company; back in the early ‘80s, actor/playwright Craig Lucas and director Norman René fashioned a number of Mr. Sondheim’s songs from aborted projects and those dropped from COMPANY, FOLLIES, etc., into this one-hour song cycle about a lonely Man and a lonely Woman in the Big City who live in the same apartment building, fantasize about each other but never get together (Mr. Lucas was the original Man, off-Broadway). There are reasons why artists put aside their own material: it may have been something that needed to be created in order to move on to something more evolved or it could not be slotted into a compatible setting or it simply may not be good --- what is buried as trash does not necessarily convert to gold when it is dug up, again. The Messrs. Lucas and René have come up with a few nuggets though the world is none the richer for them and their archiving only reinforces the fact that Mr. Sondheim is a better lyricist than composer (though he gives us clockwork oranges instead of valentines); these particular songs, coming at you bereft of dialogue and characterizations, underscore what a clever but dour artist Mr. Sondheim is, shining searchlights into dark corners yet shrinking from direct sunlight, himself.
The Gloucester production is slick and snappy though it reshuffles a few of the songs as it did in last year’s JACQUES BREL and it has reunited its BREL leads, Leigh Barrett and Drew Poling, who are the evening’s real gold. They may not convince in their yearning for each other but they have beautiful, beautiful voices with Mr. Poling’s openhearted sweetness blending with Ms. Barrett’s guarded perkiness. Ms. Barrett is that rare creature: a singer/actress who makes you forget she is singing by becoming music incarnate --- she must be breathtaking in sunnier, happier fare.