It’s a very slender branch on which to hang a show. But the leaves are songs by Stephen Sondheim and the roots are anchored in the longing for love, so what can be bad? Playwright Craig Lucas (“Light in the Piazza” and “Prelude to a Kiss”) and his longtime collaborator Norman René put together “Marry Me a Little,” a pastiche of Sondheim songs — most of them cut from the shows for which they were written — back in 1981 and the rarely seen revue has had an up-and-down history ever since. An off-Broadway production and a few regional theater stagings, “Marry Me…” never achieved the popularity of that other Sondheim revue, “Side by Side.”
But Robert Kelley, artistic director of Silicon Valley’s TheatreWorks, has a way with Sondheim and an abiding love for his work (October of 2014 will see the theater’s 20th Sondheim staging, a reprise of “Sweeney Todd”) and the production now playing at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts is charming and peppy and something that aficionados won’t want to miss.
A.J. Shively is Him, riding down the aisle on his bike to spend a Saturday night alone in his apartment (Bruce McLeod’s multi-purpose set design) and Sharon Rietkerk is Her, his downstairs, similarly lonely, neighbor. As they go about their nightly routine (she arranges flowers in a vase, he changes a light bulb and they both raid the refrigerator), they sing about old loves, the possibility of new love, the loneliness of being on your own on a Saturday night. They are ably accompanied by pianist and music director William Liberatore, sequestered in a cubicle meant to denote yet another apartment stage left. All three are excellent performers.
Not a word of dialogue is in this show. It is all stage business (some of it very funny) and the songs. And the songs don’t always fit what little plot there is, especially one about golf, composed for an abortive 1956 show called “The Last Resorts.” But others are lovely, a couple cut from “A Little Night Music” and especially Rietkerk’s “The Girls of Summer” and “There Won’t Be Trumpets.” The duet “Happily Ever After,” cut from “Company,” is another. The title song also is from “Company” and, thankfully, remained in the show.
There isn’t a lot more to say. The piece runs just an hour and ten minutes, but it’s a sweet — sometimes bittersweet — time that goes by too quickly. Although the characters sing together, their voices blending well, from time to time, they never actually meet, living parallel lives a floor apart. Will they ever get together? Spoiler alert: there is a knock on Her’s door at the very end. Anything less would be too cynical to bear. Of course, it could have been a Jehovah’s Witness.