Barrie Gelles stages revivals in unexpected ways. That’s what she said to me when we were chatting about her upcoming revival of Sondheim’s Marry Me a Little. The musical premiered Off-Off Broadway in 1980 for a two month run and then ran again for a in 1981 at The Actors Playhouse. After that, Marry Me… enjoyed runs around the world though it’s never been produced on Broadway. Gelles felt that this was a musical that best reflects her aesthetic. She knew her concept of a two character play performed by three casts would be ambitious and a great challange. However, she knew she had her vision and the support of the historic,The Gallery Players, to make it happen. A woman after my own heart.
When I heard about your concept for Marry Me a Little, I was intrigued. This is a two character musical by Stephen Sondheim and your concept of a rotating cast (2 couples: a man and a woman; two men; and two women) is a fresh and new approach. It’s clever and ambitious. How did the concept present itself and how did you go about bringing it to fruition?
Barrie: I am going to cheat a little here and answer by way of the “director’s note” that I wrote for our audiences. When I started working on this show, months before casting, it became clear to me that the appeal of this show was its central thesis on love. With that thought, it seemed obvious that this production could and should subvert the typical gender-normative casting and hetero-normative narratives of most musical theatre. The premise of Marry Me a Little is that of two strangers, living in New York City, in the same apartment building, one floor apart. The story is about love lost and love yet to be found. It seemed a perfect opportunity to be more inclusive and rethink the casting of the lovelorn duo. I decided to cast three separate duos (one male/female, one male/male, and one female/female) because I believed that the distinctly different interpretations of the same piece of art would create a unique musical theatre experience.
I appreciate you saying it was clever, and I acknowledge that it certainly was ambitious, because we didn’t have any more time that we would usually have to create a musical. An equity showcase production allots five weeks of rehearsal, regardless of how many casts you may have. On top of that, we are doing Marry Me a Little in repertory with You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, so we had even less time. We had to budget our time wisely and create a system in order to block the show with three sets of actors. We spent each rehearsal tagging-in to the blocking session. So we’d begin blocking our opening number “If You Can Find Me, I’m Here” and one duo would start the work. About a third of the way through the song, they would step down and the second duo would get on their feet for the blocking session, then the third duo would follow. Once the entire number was blocked, each duo would have a chance to run through it in its entirety. It was as strange as it sounds and more marvelous than you can imagine.
What are some of the challenges and breakthroughs during the rehearsal process?
Barrie: As you can imagine, it was very challenging to block in the way I have described. However, many of our breakthroughs happened because the actors had a chance to watch someone else play their part. By having three actors all creating the same character, they could be inspired by the adjacent interpretations.
In order to keep the show cohesive, I insisted that all three duos commit to following one clear and consistent narrative. In that sense, I was very much the dramaturg of the show as well as the director. During the months leading up to rehearsal, I worked on the show a great deal. It has no libretto, it is a sung through musical and it is made up of songs that were originally written to be part of other musicals. Because these songs have been uprooted from their original context, they carry with them their ghosted meanings. In order to direct this show, I had to strip the songs of their original narratives and reconsider them anew. I had to create a given circumstances for the show and a narrative arc that we could all latch onto in order to ensure the coherency of the piece. Because we had three casts, I had to go into the first day of rehearsal with this story already fully formed so that the actors would have a tether to keep them grounded in a very emotional musical that has no traditional plot. I believe that this process allowed the actors to move into the more delicious realm of character development and intricate song work. I think that the breakthroughs that they had (individually and collectively) about the songs were so rich because we hit the ground running with the narrative of the piece.
For practicality reasons, most of the blocking of the show is the same between the duos. But there are distinct differences in the physical interpretations of each of the characters. No two actors play the characters exactly the same way, nor do they take up the stage space in the same manner. One of the most challenging rehearsals was also the most delightful: I had to choreograph three different dances for “A Moment With You” in order to suit the actors’ bodies and to honor each duo’s particular story. What other circumstance would yield such a crazy exploration?
Did the script and score need to be adjusted to fit your vision?
We did not change a single word of the score – the music and lyrics have all remained the same. In fact, there is a female actor singing the “Man” role and a male actor singing the “Woman” role and we didn’t even change the key of the music for them, we simply cast actors who could sing it (and can they ever!). Through the magic of musical theatre, where we are so willing to suspend disbelief while acknowledging the overt theatricality of people bursting into song, the pronouns and gender specific words just seem to blend into the narrative seamlessly. This is a huge credit to the actors who are playing the roles.
Why did you choose this show?
Stephen Sondheim’s music is so lush and so heartbreakingly complex. It is a pleasure to work with his material. But I mostly chose this show because it is a unique character study within a musical. It has the trappings of a realistic, contemporary drama: it is the small world of an apartment, on a single Saturday night, where the action of the play is steeped in everyday life tasks such as reading the paper and pouring a drink. But along with this “real life” simplicity comes an overwhelmingly emotional journey for the characters, told entirely through song. Furthermore, because the two characters live in two separate apartments, they spend a great deal of the show without interacting with a scene partner. The show presents one of the strangest and most intoxicating acting challenges in musical theatre: realism within a musical; unity while being alone; and a story about love that is of the past or the future, but not the present.
This is a charming and bittersweet musical featuring rarely heard songs by Stephen Sondheim. Two urban singles live through a Saturday night of deep yearning and sweet fantasies while never leaving the confines of their solitary New York City apartments. Together they breathe new life and meaning into a collection of trunk songs that were culled from the original Broadway productions of shows such as Follies, Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and A Little Night Music. A must for Sondheim aficionados and any New Yorker who ever found themselves alone on a Saturday night, thinking about love that was lost and love to be found.
By special permission from Mr. Sondheim, Gallery will be presenting this two character musical with male/female, male/male and female/female pairings.]
THE CASTS OF MARRY ME A LITTLE
[A first for this show, there will be three rotating casts performing each weekend.]
Thurs, Jan 26 @ 8:00pm (Jesse Manocherian & Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld) M/F pairing
Fri, Jan 27 @ 8:00pm (Adrian Rifat and Paul Williams) M/M pairing
Sat, Jan 28 @ 8:00pm (GalleryTalks) (Laura Cetti and Cassandra Dupler) F/F pairing
Thurs, Feb 2 @ 8:00pm (Adrian Rifat and Paul Williams) M/M pairing
Fri, Feb 3 @ 8:00pm (Laura Cetti and Cassandra Dupler) F/F pairing
Sat, Feb 4 @ 8:00pm (Jesse Manocherian and Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld) M/F pairing
Thurs, Feb 9 @ 8:00pm (Laura Cetti and Cassandra Dupler) F/F pairing
Fri, Feb 10 @ 8:00pm (Jesse Manocherian and Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld) M/F pairing
Sat, Feb 11 @ 8:00pm (Adrian Rifat and Paul Williams) M/M pairing
Thurs, Feb 16 @ 8:00pm (Adrian Rifat and Paul Williams) M/M pairing
Fri, Feb 17 @ 8:00pm (Jesse Manocherian and Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld) M/F pairing
Sat, Feb 18 @ 8:00pm (Laura Cetti and Cassandra Dupler) F/F pairing\
*appearing courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association
THE STAFF OF MARRY ME A LITTLE
Producer – Jonathan King
Director and Choreographer – Barrie Gelles
Lighting Designer – Scott Cally
Costume Designer – Hayley Zimmerman
Set Designer – Paul Radassao
Production Stage Manager – Jillian Christensen
Assistant Stage Manager – Emily LaRosa