Front & Center - Theater Reviews

Front & Center: 6.27.18

I Do! I Do! originally was written for Mary Martin and Robert Preston in the 1960s and has been remodeled in various ways over the years, from the original Broadway show to a TV version with Lee Remick and Hal Linden. There was serious talk of Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke starring in a 1970 film adaptation, and Carol Burnett and Rock Hudson staged the play at The Muny in 1974. You can tell just how beloved a story is when headliners like those are attached to it!

This was my first experience with Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s Tony Award-nominated, two-character musical about the ups and downs of marriage, and I didn’t know much about the story—but that allowed me the heady opportunity for a pleasing surprise. I wanted to absorb the tale in a completely fresh way, and it didn’t disappoint. STAGES’ first play of the 2018 season, directed and choreographed by Michael Hamilton, stars two casts on alternating dates—Kari Ely and David Schmittou, and Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom. Ely and Schmittou were on stage the night I attended, and they embraced the roles of husband Michael and wife Agnes with a great deal of energy.

The two sing and dance their way through marriage, first clumsily getting to know each other in 1895 and then surviving the vicissitudes of a changing and challenging relationship over the next 50 years. There are equal measures of playfulness, affection, doubt and pain, the same with any actual married couple. The story takes place in the pair’s bedroom, moving from their first home to a larger one as their family grows and Michael’s career as an author takes off. It’s the most intimate space two people can share, so it’s also where many of their toughest conflicts arise.

Various life stages are reflected in the bedroom scenes, from baby clothes drying on a line to children’s belongings strewn about. In one scene, the couple breaks out their old violin and saxophone to entertain the crowd with some hilariously terrible music. In another, Agnes asserts her independence by parading around in a ridiculously huge, ornately feathered hat she’s been dying to wear. Costumes change with the decades, and favorite tunes like “My Cup Runneth Over” and “Nobody’s Perfect” round out the whimsical and colorful production.

Neither Ely nor Schmittou has the least bit of trouble morphing from nervous newlywed to elderly adult as the story progresses. In fact, both are endearing and appealing from start to finish. My favorite scene is the one in which the characters perform their own makeup and wig transitions to old age on stage in front of everyone. It’s a brilliant way to let the audience become personally involved with their lives.

upcoming shows 
» Mary Poppins Jr. | June 29 & 30
A musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Disney film, Washington University’s Edison Theatre
End of the Rainbow | Through July 1
Broadway hit about the later years of Judy Garland’s career, The Grandel Theatre
Jersey Boys | July 9-16
Award-winning musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, The Muny

Pictured: Kari Ely and David Schmittou in I Do! I Do!
Photo: Peter Wochniak