It is true that the two-person musical revue Marry Me a Little can be described as a collection of detritus from the Stephen Sondheim scrap heap. Its score, after all, is made up of rejects from his shows and odds and ends from other projects. It is also true that Stephen Sondheim’s garbage has a lot more going for it than what passes today for musical theater. Or as Lauren Molina, one half the cast of this recent, now-closed New York production of Marry Me a Little put it in an interview on Broadway World, Stephen Sondheim’s B-sides are a lot better than most other composer’s A-sides.
The new cast recording of the Keen Theater Company’s production, directed by Jonathan Silverstein and starring Molina and Jason Tam, makes her point in spades. If these are rejects, it is not because of any inherent flaws. They may not have worked in the larger show. They may not have been a good fit for the cast. They may have fallen victim to other cuts. One thing is evident listening to the 17 tracks on this album, these songs are vintage Sondheim and deserve a better fate than the scrap heap or the filing cabinet. Marry Me a Little, with the sparkling performances of Molina and Tam, offers that better fate.
The show, first produced in 1980, was conceived and developed by playwright Craig Lucas and director Norman René. Their original production, Lucas explains in the liner notes, used 18 unfamiliar Sondheim songs to “dramatize the solitary evenings of two New Yorkers.” The new production, while still emphasizing isolation in the big city, brings the action up to the present and cuts three songs from the original, replacing them with five new ones. John Ball accompanies the duo on the piano.
Molina and Tam make the most of the material. Not only do they have the vocal chops to deal with Sondheim’s music, they have the wit to make the most of vintage Sondheim lyrics. Highlights in a score filled with highlights include the frantic opening duet, “If You Can Find Me, I’m Here.” Molina’s winking, ‘red hot mama’ performance of “Can That Boy Foxtrot” and her powerhouse “There Won’t Be Trumpets” are exceptional moments, as are Tam’s “Bring on the Girls” and his bravura work on the clever lyrics of “Ah, But Underneath,” with its dynamic rhymes.
One track is better than the other: Tam’s “Happily Ever After” is forceful. Molina strips bare her emotions in her treatment of the title song. And when they sing together, in “Who Could Be Blue?/Little White House,” “So Many People,” “Your Eyes Are Blue,” and the very moving final number “It Wasn’t Meant to Happen,” they complement each other to perfection. They are a bright; they are passionate. They take the ball and run with it.
Marry Me a Little is a cast album you won’t want to miss.