After performing in the original cast of Sweeney Todd in 1979, actor Craig Lucas finally got the opportunity a couple of years later to create his own cabaret show. His idea? To take a number of unpublished and unheard songs from Sondheim’s back catalogue into a revue-style show with a loose narrative. The result was Marry Me A Little. After Lucas requested permission from the composer, Sondheim replied “Well, I think that it’s a terrible idea, but go ahead”. Thankfully he did.
The show really is a celebration of Sondheim’s music, comprising hidden gems and clever songwriting. The narrative is vague, detailing the breakdown of a relationship between a man and a woman. The two characters exist within one space, their stories overlapping as they drift in and out of each other’s lives. It’s a typically abstract construct, proving Sondheim’s uncanny ability to capture love, relationships and human emotion in musical form. The opening Two Fairy Tales cleverly juxtaposes two contrasting views in its fragmented lyrics; witty wordplay is in abundance, particularly in the amusing Can That Boy Foxtrot!; and throughout, the songs are full of masterful storytelling, music and drama in perfect symbiosis. It’s a well-rounded selection of songs too, exploring lust, love, sexual tension, laughter and heartbreak.
With just two performers and complex music it’s a demanding sing, but Laura Pitt-Pulford and Simon Bailey are exquisite. Bailey’s soft vocal is full of character, his natural performance utterly convincing and in total contrast to his last West End role as Liam in I Can't Sing. Pitt-Pulford, meanwhile, has a stunning voice ranging from a delicate soprano to rich jazzy tones. Together their chemistry is believable, drawing us into their relationship through the raw honesty of their performances and the music. Director Hannah Chissick and designer Simon Anthony Wells have provided plenty of modern touches, with a contemporary apartment set and inspired use of props such as the couple playing Wii golf during Pour Le Sport rather than being on an actual golf course.
Indeed, it’s the timelessness of Sondheim’s music that’s apparent above all. The songs still work dramatically as standalone numbers taken out of their original context, as well as fitting into the loose narrative, whilst the universal themes are relevant to every generation. This intimate show is not to be missed.
Watch: Marry Me A Little runs until 10th August at the St. James Studio Theatre.