Sunday, June 18, 2023

MARRY ME A LITTLE - Everyman Theatre

Alexander Unikowski - Hanna Lance - Elizabeth Alford in "Marry Me A Little"

Music by Stephen Sondheim

Directed by Jarrad West - Musical Direction by Elizabeth Alford

Set Design my Michael Sparks – Lighting design by Fiona Leach with Tanya Taylor

Lighting Design by Craig Muller - Sound Design by Nathan Patrech

Performed by Hanna

Presented by Everyman Theatre - ACT Hub June 15 – 24th June 2023

Performance on June 16 reviewed by Bill Stephens.


Jarrad West has forged an enviable reputation for innovative productions at the ACT Hub. His production last year of “The Importance of Being Ernest” being a high point. 

However his mojo seems to have deserted him for this misconceived production of “Marry Me A Little”.

“Marry Me A Little” is a pastiche musical reworking a collection of Stephen Sondheim songs cut from his musicals, mainly “Saturday Night”, “Company”, “Follies”, “A Little Night Music”, “Anyone Can Whistle” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum”. Its title comes from a song originally cut, then put back into, “Company”. 

Stephen Sondheim was such a prolific writer that there are a least four other similar shows repurposing Sondheim songs, the best known being “Side By Side By Sondheim”, “Putting It Together” and “Sondheim on Sondheim”. These are usually presented in revue format.

The difference with “Marry Me A Little” is that it shoe-horns the songs into an entirely sung-through storyline involving only a man and a woman who live in the same apartment building, one floor apart, who have similar dreams and desires, but never meet.

Alexander Unikowski - Hanna Lance - Elizabeth Alford in "Marry Me A Little"

For his production West has both characters living in the same cluttered, realistic apartment, designed by Michael Sparks, in which they interact directly with each other. This sets up the expectation that the show has a storyline. 

An extra degree of difficulty in this regard is heightened by the fact that the musical director, Elizabeth Alford, is seated at a piano in the same cluttered room, very much in view throughout. Although she never becomes involved the action her continual presence beggars the question as to who is this mysterious housemate, and why is she remaining so aloof?

Most people can sing a Sondheim song. But Sondheim songs are written to be performed by seasoned Broadway performers with the skills to personalise his complex lyrics and rhythms. The fascination of his songs is that they are often self-contained and psychologically revealing, and respond to varying interpretations when taken out of context. This makes them perfect as virtuoso cabaret songs for skilled performers with the ability to reveal the nuances.

Jukebox musicals such as “Mamma Mia” work well because the songs are usually confined to expressing a particular feeling or emotion. However, in the case of Sondheim, his penchant is for complex, psychologically charged lyrics expressing the deepest thoughts and emotions of a particular character in a particular circumstance.

This is one of the reasons his songs work so well for the performer who can assume those thoughts and feelings as their own.

Both Hannah Lance and Alexander Unikowski are experienced theatre performers.   Although Unikowski is well known for his brilliance as a musical director, this is his first role as a leading man. However, as yet neither he nor Lance possess the necessary vocal range or stagecraft to take the songs beyond superficial readings, although both can be admired for their plucky attempts at this difficult material.

Having chosen his cast, West seems to have found it necessary to have them underline each lyric with peripatetic stage business in an attempt to maintain interest in the songs.

Hanna Lance performing "Can That Boy Foxtrot"

One unfortunate example being for the song “Can that Boy Foxtrot”, where West, not known for his subtlety, has the performer underline each double-entendre lyric by demonstrating the lascivious phallic possibilities of every vegetable she unpacks from her shopping.

Sondheim is celebrated for his clever lyric writing, therefore in presenting his work a major priority should be ensuring his lyrics are clearly heard. This was not the case at this performance, and even though the ACT Hub is a small room, perhaps amplification may have helped. On the other hand, as one of the singers had a distressing tendency to lose pitch and sing off key, perhaps not.

Therefore, the difficulty in hearing the lyrics made it impossible to form an appreciation as to how well the songs served the storytelling, or for that matter, to make sense of the motivations of the characters, which at times seemed remarkably curious. This frustration was further exacerbated by the silly   gimmick of constantly having concentration interrupted by receiving text messages presumably being shared by the characters.

Not having experienced a previous production of “Marry Me A Little”  one can only wonder if a simpler production may have served the material better, otherwise the only reason to recommend  this production is the opportunity it offers to experience some rarely heard Sondheim songs.


Hanna Lance - Alexander Unikowski in "Marry Me A Little"

Images by Janelle McMenamin / Michael Moore.

This review also published in Australian Arts Review.