Monday, 11 June 2018 12:06

Arts Capsule: The marriage of true minds

Written by 
Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom Photo by Peter Wochniak

Looking for a lightweight, feel-good summer musical that sends you away with a smile on your face and probably a memorable tune or two in your head? If so, let me direct your attention to Stages St. Louis's excellent production of I Do! I Do!, which runs through July 1st.

When it premiered on Broadway in 1966, this two-character musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the creators of the runaway hit The Fantasticks, was already something of an exercise in nostalgia. Like the play on which it's based--Jan de Hartog's The Fourposter from 1951--I Do! I Do! tells the story of the marriage of Michael and Agnes, from their hesitant honeymoon night in 1895, through the birth of their children, Michael's success as an author, and their wistful preparation, in old age, to move to a smaller house and turn the home over to a new couple just starting out in life. In the play that departure takes place in 1925. The musical extends it to 1945, but in both cases the action remains firmly rooted in a sepia-tinted past

Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom
Photo by Peter Wochniak

Like any married couple, Michael and Agnes have their ups and downs, but the latter are few and far between and are reconciled with unconvincing ease. It hardly matters; Mr. Jones' book is clearly about celebrating marriage, not analyzing it. And Michael and Agnes sing in the final number ("This House"), "Marriage is a very good thing / Though it's far from easy / Still, it's filled this house with life and love." If you want realism and ambiguity, look to Sondheim.

Possibly the greatest asset of I Do! I Do! is the score. The show's biggest hit, "My Cup Runneth Over," was a huge success in the 1960s for Ed Ames, and was also recorded by everyone from The Lennon Sisters to Aretha Franklin. Its gentle celebration of love is still calculated to bring a lump to the throat, while "The Honeymoon is Over" remains a caustically funny picture of a love boat that's close to sinking. The Act II opener, "Where Are the Snows?," is a whimsical picture of a couple looking back on their younger days, while the title song paints an amusing picture of the naïveté of young love ("You can throw away your every care and doubt / For that's what married life is all about"). More importantly, the songs advance the story and illuminate character, which is ultimately the test of a good musical theatre score.

The Stages production is actually two shows in one, with two separate casts the alternate performance nights. The night we saw it, Michael and Agnes were played by Steve Isom and Corinne Melançon (who is also the show's dance captain). They alternate with David Schmittou and Kari Ely, both of whom will be familiar to Stages audiences.

Mr. Isom has a long history with Stages. In the past I have only seen him in supporting roles, so it was good to finally have a chance to appreciate his work in a leading part. He perfectly captures both Michael's pompous cluelessness as well as his tenderness, and proves to be a deft physical comic. Vocally, he reminded me more than once of the late, great Robert Preston--very appropriate, given that Preston was the original Michael on Broadway.

Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom
Photo by Peter Wochniak

Ms. Melançon is sheer delight as Agnes. Her "Flaming Agnes," in which Agnes envisions life as a very gay divorcée, is a comic tour de force, while her performance of Agnes's Act II identity crisis, "What Is a Woman?," is appropriately moving. Vocally strong and physically graceful, she glides through director Michael Hamilton's fairly straightforward choreography with ease.

The main set piece for productions of I Do! I Do! has always been the four-poster bed that gave the original play its title, and scenic designer James Wolk has come up with an impressive-looking one for Stages. It's also mobile enough to be spun around and quickly rolled upstage behind a sliding wall when it's not needed for a scene. That allows for more set pieces than might otherwise be the case on the Reim Center's relatively shallow stage, including separate dressers for Agnes and Michael.

I Do! I Do! isn't one of the 20th century's great contributions to musical theatre, but it's an agreeable diversion. And the Stages production is sheer perfection. Maybe, in this summer of "universal brouhaha" (to quote Tom Lehrer), that's enough. Performances continue through July 1st in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

Media