Here's a challenge, theatre buffs: Take an old script and figure out how to give it some zip.
I Do! I Do! returns to open the current season at Stages St. Louis. It was on offer in their first year, 1987. The musical is based on The Fourposter, a play that won the Tony in 1951 as best new play. Its score is by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt – Jones did the book as well – six years after they gave us The Fantasticks. The story is of a 50-year marriage that supposedly begins in 1895.
Brought to Broadway by St. Louisan David Merrick (Washington University and St. Louis University School of Law, and Central High School, because you know someone will ask), it had many things going for it. Starring Robert Preston, who really was a star before Music Man, and Mary Martin, a powerhouse draw, the set was simple and there was no other cast. It opened in 1965 and ran for a year and a half and then began a national tour.
Distinguished bloodlines, to be sure. But the world has changed a lot in the more than
fifty years since it opened. Marriage certainly has.
Director Michael Hamilton doubled down on things with his casting. Two different pairs of actors are doing the show. I saw Corrine Melancon and Steve Isom on the official opening night. They more or less alternate with Kari Ely and David Schmittou. All four are favorites with Stages audiences, and there's a schedule online of which pair is working when so theatre-goers can pick their favorites if they have strong opinions.
Melancon and Isom are clearly having a good time with this, and that always augurs well for things. It's certainly a challenge to take characters from young and innocent to fifty years later, but they carry it off well, from the anticipation at the wedding ceremony to the anxiety later that night to the ups and downs of raising a family – presumably through the arrival of automobiles, the Great Depression and World War II.
Not that any of that is discussed or even implied. Even if one considers whether the timeline has been changed, there's still no mention of the outside world beyond Michael, the husband's, career as a novelist. They're in a bubble and the troubles are so generic – he takes spells of being oaf-ish, she spends more money than her “household allowance” - that it's surprising that we remain interested in the story line. It's just not a strong script, and while the music is pleasant and Isom's handling of the biggest song from the show, “My Cup Runneth Over”, shows well, the score is nothing remarkable.
That puts more of a burden on a theatrical company to produce a worthwhile show. Everyone pitches in to do their share. Director Hamilton doubled as the choreographer, resulting in a charming soft-shoe and a somewhat tricky waltz around all the furniture, among other numbers. Melancon carries off a number called “Flaming Agnes” with Bette Midler-like aplomb. Isom's Michael isn't a bad guy, just totally clueless, and Isom seems effortless with Michael's verbal clumsiness as well as his eruptions.
Brad Musgrove's costumes are a delight. The evening dress and mother-of-the-bride ensemble charm, but it's the hat that emerges from what may have been an early Lane cedar chest that leaves us gasping. It could be related to the signature hat at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. James Wolk's set employs, of course, a four-poster bed, and the other furniture elements fit right in. Sean M Savoie's lights are an important element of the feel of the show.
Hamilton's direction blends all this together to give us something that rises above the script and score, a strong effort from the entire group. Not their best show, but a good example of making lemons from lemonade.
I Do! I Do!
Through July 1
Stages St. Louis
The Robert G. Reim Theatre
111 S. Geyer Rd., Kirkwood