Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz. Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds. Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C. Hall. Courteney Cox and David Arquette. With all of the high-profile divorces going on out there, it’s hard to remember that some marriages last decades.
The Westchester Broadway Theatre did its best to remind us that, for some, marriage actually lasts longer than a season of the Real Housewives. Its most recent production, I Do! I Do!, is about the highs and lows that one couple experiences throughout a fifty-year marriage.
“Fiction!” you may think. “That doesn’t happen anymore.” While the play is period, the theater pulled a neat little trick to underscore its veracity. The WBT invited local couples who have been married for fifty years or more to come to the show, where they were introduced by a tuxedoed emcee before the curtains went up. Seventeen couples were recognized; the longest-running marriage on the roster (though sadly not in attendance) has been going on for 65 years.
All in all, it was a cute way to set the stage for the musical, which continues to be cute for the rest of its running time. I Do! I Do! is a two-person play, originally written for Mary Martin and Robert Preston. His part — called “Michael” on stage, but listed as just “he” in the program — is full of the Music Man’s blustery nature and Vaudeville energy, which Mark Zimmerman attacks with pizzazz. Laurie Landry, playing “Agnes” or “she,” sweetly carries the rest of it with her lovely voice.
It’s essential that these two actors have the chemistry that they did — it’s just the two of them, after all. The show’s focus is extremely stripped down, and the action takes place entirely in their bedroom. Everything that happens to the couple — including the birth and raising of their children — happens offstage, and we just get to see their intimate reactions to it. These are sometimes silly, sometimes sweet, and sometimes biting, so a lot goes on in that one bedroom (which provides for a lot of musical numbers, almost like a revue), but always within the context of the same four walls.
It’s that lack of context that leads to the show’s biggest weakness. You can tell that book/lyric writer Tom Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt were aiming to capture the universal ups and downs of marriage. By going for something so accessible and not showing the couple interacting out in the world, the characters and situations can come off as generic. (“He,” as he ages, has a wandering eye; “She” spends too much money shopping for ridiculous clothes. Imagine that.) After committing to spend so much time with them, I would have liked to see them more as real, three-dimensional people instead of stand-ins for “bride” and “groom,” like a plastic cake-topper.
Still, even without the nitty-gritty details, there are nice insights and fun numbers throughout the play. (“When the Kids Get Married,” about the grand plans parents have for their free time once they become empty-nesters, is a great, uptempo song that I’m sure some local parents can relate to.) As far as a look at American marriages, it’s a heck of a lot deeper than another season of Real Housewives.
What do you think, readers? Submit your reviews below.
I Do! I Do! will be at the Westchester Broadway Theatre through March 20.