New Rep’s ‘Marry Me’ is a short, sweet treat

Phil Tayler and Erica Spyres in "Marry Me a Little." Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Phil Tayler and Erica Spyres in “Marry Me a Little.” Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

WATERTOWN — In composer Stephen Sondheim’s “trash,” there are many treasures.The so-called “trash” isn’t trash at all, of course, but “trunk songs,” songs that Sondheim composed for specific shows but were cut from those shows, songs from musicals never produced for the stage, and others intended for film.
With a composer such as Sondheim, even his misses are hits.
In 1980, playwright/actor Craig Lucas was in a chorus of “Sweeney Todd” and asked Sondheim for permission to go through those songs for a Sondheim revue he was creating the for the off-Broadway Production Company. The two picked 17 numbers they thought would work, and Norman Rene was brought in as director.
The work eventually became the musical revue “Marry Me a Little,” now being produced at the New Repertory Theatre under the direction of Ilyse Robbins in what the New Rep is calling the first “gender blind” production of the revue, celebrating the many possibilities of love when it comes to men and women.
This production has a pleasing cast of two men and two women — Aimee Doherty, Erica Spyres, Phil Tayler and Brad Daniel Peloquin — with the varied ranges and styles needed to handle the 18 numbers that make up the revue ion this production.
Recent productions — including this one — have also incorporated many modern elements, including texting and the Internet, into the characters’ lives.
A reviewer’s full disclosure: I am a registered Sondheim-phile, and have been since performing in an amateur production of “Company” many years ago.
For dedicated fans of Sondheim, part of the fun comes from guessing which songs were cut from what show. I intentionally didn’t read the production notes before the show, and even though I had seen this revue many years ago, I had forgotten most of the connections.
I was able to identify “Rainbows” as being connected to “Into the Woods” ; it was to be part of a film project based on the play.
I also knew the title song of the revue, for instance, was eliminated from “Company” before Broadway, but was re-inserted in later productions; it and another number in the production, “Happily After After,” were “11 o’clock songs” — the penultimate show-stopping number before the finale — before the classic “Being Alive” finally nailed down that slot.
Several numbers in the revue were either cut or revised from “Follies,” one of Sondheim’s masterworks, and one of the highlights was Doherty‘s rendition of “There Won’t be Trumpets” from “Anyone Can Whistle,” one of Sondheim’s noble failures and another personal favorite which achieved belated appreciation and a cult following.
Much of the credit for the success of the New Rep production goes to set designer Erik Diaz in the latest of several sterling efforts. He has carefully crafted four disparate city apartments, ranging from Tayler’s cramped studio to Doherty’s and Peloquin’s more elegant surroundings, to account for the broad range of people who are all longing to find connection in their worlds.
Director Robbins allows the personalities of the actors and actresses to shine through, and is obviously at the forefront of the imaginative and engaging staging.
Music director David McGrory mans one piano and Todd C. Gordon a second piano on opposite sides of the stage; they complement each other beautifully and allow for Sondheim’s gems to have a fuller, more orchestral sound, at times abetted by the violin played by Spyres’ character.
At 75 minutes, the evening is short and sweet yet a romantic tour de force, and like anything good, leaves you wanting more. If you are a Sondheim-phile like myself or have never been introduced to the iconic composer, you are in for a treat.
The New Repertory Theatre production of “Marry Me a Little,” songs by Stephen Sondheim, conceived and developed b y Craig Lucas and Norman Rene. Directed and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins. At the Mosesian Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts through Jan. 27.