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I Do! I Do!

Kate Baldwin and Lewis Cleale shine in the Westport Country Playhouse's revival of the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt tuner about a long-married couple.

Kate Baldwin and Lewis Cleale in I Do! I Do!
(© T. Charles Erickson)
Susan H. Schulman's perfectly fine,revival of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's tuner I Do! I Do!, now at the Westport Country Playhouse through September 4, unfortunately reaffirms the property's status as a second-drawer artifact -- a fact that was obscured over 40 years ago by its original director, Gower Champion, and stars Mary Martin and Robert Preston.

Here, despite Lewis Cleale and Kate Baldwin giving their commendable utmost as connubial couple Michael and Agnes, this musical adaptation of Jan de Hartog's The Fourposter comes across as little more than a reassuring pat on the back to traditional unions.

The show begins in 1898 as virginal newlyweds Agnes and Michael get over wedding-night nerves in a bedroom (nicely designed by Wilson Chin) and continues around that same fourposter bed into the 1940s. There, Michael and Agnes welcome and raise a son and a daughter, survive a brief rift when he dallies with another woman, enter middle age and then old age, and slide smoothly past her short announcement that she needs to quit the marriage to find herself.

Incidentally, Agnes abandons this last threat to their extending bliss when Michael informs her he needs her as support for his romance-novelist career. In 2010 when the definitions of a woman's place within marriage has largely been re-examined and redefined, this bit of subordination is hardly a selling-point for many ticket-buyers.

Nonetheless, Jones and Schmidt -- who have admitted to being reluctant to tackle the work all those years ago -- did a suave job of streamlining the play. For one thing, they allow the many make-up and costume changes -- the good-looking period apparel here is courtesy of Devon Painter -- to occur on stage.

More importantly, they inserted a few fistfuls of delicious ditties, including the popular love paean "My Cup Runneth Over," the lacerating "The Honeymoon is Over," the rousing "Flaming Agnes," and the exuberant "When the Kids Are Married," during which Baldwin plays the violin and Cleale the sax, neither well but both adorably. And while too many unmemorable songlets do crop up over the two-act work, the pair sings everything extremely well -- which may be enough for some theatergoers to say "I do" to I Do! I Do!


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