Hearing of a Stephen Sondheim revue, I don’t think you’d be alone in thinking that it’s going to be a bunch of ballads. I’m happy to tell you that with Marry Me a Little, this is not the case. It’s much, much more.
The Barn theatre have cleverly updated this celebration of Sondheim and have produced a fresh love story. A set of two apartments sharing the centre of the stage, splits the recently parted couple as they go about their newly single lives. The production is sung-through, but the plot is brought together by innovative use of the technical elements. With a genius addition of a phone-screen backdrop, and even a song brought on by tinder swiping, catapult the story into the modern day.
Jukebox musicals have attempted to merge catalogues of songs and fluid storylines for years. Whether successful or not, (not naming names) they do have a captive audience ready to buy tickets. With Sondheim tunes, the audience may not know the lyrics to sing along to, but they are expecting a skilful showcase of acting and vocals.
Rob Houchen (Les Misérables) portrays the male character with intense, magnetic charm. His rich tone of voice suits the material perfectly. The woman played by Celinde Schoenmaker (The Phantom of the Opera) is equally impressive. A soprano with a surprising belt, she shines onstage. During the title number, Schoenmaker not only delivers a masterclass in acting through song, she is note perfect.
Some tunes in the score are recognisable, whereas others may be quite niche. Sondheim is well renowned for his challenging show tunes, but the performers aren’t out of their depth here. Throughout the characters are pulling on the audience’s heartstrings. The story of a break-up is universal and due to the performances being so strong, the characters are relatable.
The direction of Kirk Jameson is faultless. The actors, set, musical direction and technical parts all work together in presenting a terrific piece of theatre. It is a shame that the run was cut short because of lockdown 2.0, but I hope the show can reach a wider audience with it being streamed. The sad breakdown of a relationship may not seem like the ideal lockdown pick-me-up, but this production is a sweet distraction from current times. It’s not all frills and trills, it’s a moving and emotional tale. So, classic Sondheim.
Reviewer: Coral Mourant
Reviewed: 17th November 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★