Take a premise about two young, lovelorn New Yorkers living just one floor apart and mix in a bevy of little-known songs by Stephen Sondheim, and you get Craig Lucas and Norman Rene's 1981 revue Marry Me a Little, now playing in a Keen Company revival at the Harold Clurman Theater at Theatre Row. It's an affable confection, but much like the emotional lives of the unnamed characters, Him (Jason Tam) and Her (Lauren Molina), it's also a bit of a rocky affair.
Under the direction of Jonathan Silverstein, the show has been updated for this new production, which unfolds in a single studio apartment (created with great detail by scenic designer Steven C. Kemp) that serves as both characters' homes on different floors.
In addition, a few songs from the original production have been removed and replaced with other material, and details in the characters' lives are up-to-the-minute. At one point during "Boy, Can That Boy Foxtrot" (a tune dropped from Follies) – which the female character launches into after receiving a text – the show even includes a bit of playful sexting.
While that sort of specificity -- which is also seen in Tam's character's delivery of "Ah, But Underneath" (written for the London production of Follies and one of the new songs in this show) which is inspired as he gazes at an engagement ring that's either never been given or been returned -- creates certain expectations of similar naturalism, Silverstein's sometimes overly fussy production too often shifts into a less concrete and more dreamlike reality.
At those moments, audiences may find themselves struggling to understand why Him and Her have broken into songs like "Your Eyes Are Blue" (cut from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) or "Rainbows" (written for the film version of Into the Woods and never-before performed until this production.)
What ultimately pulls theatergoers through these missteps are Molina and Tam's consistently winning performances. She imbues Her with earthy spunk that's tempered with a palpable sense of sad loneliness, while Tam blends a cool, yet slightly geeky, hipster demeanor with just a bit of weary bitterness and vulnerability in his turn as Him.
Impressively, too, both performers deliver all of the material without the aid of amplification, and though the lack of microphones means that audiences might strain to hear some lyrics at times, it also means that when Molina and Tam nail their numbers -- such as Tam's searing delivery of "Happily Ever After" and Molina's sultry rendition of The Girls of Summer, there's an unmistakable electricity in the air.
Equally wonderfully, when the actors' voices combine in "All Things Bright and Beautiful" (another Follies tune) and "A Moment With You" (from Saturday Night), the effect can be concurrently sweet and poignant, much like the revue itself.