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THEATER REVIEW 'MARRY ME A LITTLE' : Leftover Melodies : The collection of songs, cut from several Broadway musicals, is a must for devoted fans of Stephen Sondheim.

March 26, 1992|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

No mistake about it, "Marry Me a Little" is a highly specialized item. A collection of Stephen Sondheim songs that never made it into the various musicals for which they were written, this two-performer piece hovers uncertainly between a concert recital and a staged work.

For Sondheim fans, it's of unquestionable interest: a rare opportunity to hear material that would never be performed in any other context. The songs were written for such Broadway legends as "Company," "Follies," "A Little Night Music" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," but were cut because they couldn't be fit into the staging logistics, dramatic development or overall vision of the shows.

But even in these leftovers, the traits that have put Sondheim at the pinnacle of the American musical theater are much in evidence. They include clever, sophisticated lyrics and finely differentiated emotional nuances that deal with modern romance in all its sublime, maddening ambiguity (summed up in the title song's plea for partial commitment).

Who besides Sondheim could nail this succinct portrait of a social climber torn between "Uptown, Downtown":

\o7 She sits at the Ritz with her splits of Mumm's

And starts to pine for a stein with her Village chums,

But with a Schlitz in her mitts down in Fitroy's bar,

She thinks of the Ritz -- oh,

It's so

Schizo

The authors of "Marry Me a Little," Craig Lucas and Norman Renee, tried to tie these songs together with a loose story line--two single people alone in their respective Manhattan apartments on a Saturday night. Though they never meet, the apartments are collapsed into a single stage space. The man and woman interact only to provide the phantom accompaniment for each other's recollections and fantasies.

For less than die-hard Sondheim enthusiasts, the appeal may be limited by the lack of a proper context. In fact, things can get downright confusing without it. When the serious, sensitive young man bursts into "Bang!"--with its witty theme of seduction couched as military conquest--the song seems wildly out of character. It only makes sense in its original connection as a duet between Desiree and her swaggering soldier paramour in "Night Music."

While the performers (Heidi Ewart and Michael Tremblay) are likable enough as the young lonely hearts, better projection in their singing and less concentration on dubious staging business (like having each of them drop their keys as they approach the door) would make "Marry Me a Little" more satisfying for its songs, which is where its strength lies.

PCPA Theaterfest director/choreographer Carolyn Shouse has labored mightily to make the piece as theatrical as possible, a battle she just can't win.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Marry Me a Little" will be performed tonight through Saturday, March 28, at 8 p.m. at the Backstage Theatre in Solvang. Tickets are $16, available through all TicketMaster outlets or call (800) 221-9469 for reservations or further information.

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