Do you or don’t you?

IDID_Irene & JamesBy Ande Jacobson

Can you imagine being married to someone for 50 years? At Tabard’s first I Do! I Do! Saturday matinee, as Leslie and Jerry Lloyd gave the curtain speech, they queried the audience to see how many couples had been married for at least 20, 30, 40, 50, 55, 60, and finally 70 years. It was surprising how many hands shot up, and stayed up through 55. Once they got to 60, only one couple still had their hands up, so the Lloyd’s started counting by one’s. The wife’s hand went down when they got to 70, but the husband’s hand was still up. His confusion was understandable as their 70th anniversary is coming up in June this year.

Quite the lead-in for a musical about a longtime marriage, together through the good times and the bad, starting in 1898 and running through 1948. I’ll give one small bit away at this point, the marriage, and their lives are not over after 50 years, but that’s where the story ends in a bittersweet, yet heartwarming moment.

I Do! I Do! is a 1966 musical with book and lyrics by Tom Jones, and music by Harvey Schmidt, based on Jan de Hartog’s 1951 play, The Fourposter. The source play was a product of its time, and the musical version keeps that intact. I Do! I Do! has special appeal to director Doug Baird for his 100th production having starred in a previous run of the show.

James Creer and Irene Trapp bring Michael and Agnes to life on Tabard’s stage, dramatizing material that strongly appeals to a mature audience as a piece of nostalgia. Times were simpler in those days. People married young, and divorce, while it happened on occasion, wasn’t as prevalent then as it is now. Whatever difficulties arose during the marriage were worked out, a fact to which many of the couples in the audience that first Saturday afternoon could personally attest.

The story starts the day that Michael and Agnes are married as they nervously get ready to walk down the aisle. We are treated to their pre-wedding jitters, their ceremony, their exultation at being together, and their wedding night as first time newlyweds, Agnes having never seen a naked man before. Most of the action takes place in their bedroom though not necessarily “in bed,” and the downstage area (and just in front of the stage) sometimes signifies other locales such as the church they, and at least one of their children, marry in.

Their characterizations are very believable and in keeping with the times, and they both handle the physicality of their roles well. Early in the story, Trapp seems small, mousy even, as a proper woman of that era would be, and Agnes defers to her husband. Creer’s character is initially inept and unsure of himself, but as Michael blossoms in his career as a writer, Creer becomes somewhat bombastic, and his presence expands, at least for a while.

Through all of it, Creer and Trapp are very natural, giving us a glimpse of the societally influenced, gender-based differences of the time. As they sing the opening sequence; however, their voices are mismatched. Creer’s voice stands out and belies any insecurities that Michael might feel. In comparison, Trapp’s voice is too soft initially, and she is overpowered by Creer in the early numbers. Their vocal balance eventually evens out a bit as the story evolves, Trapp’s Agnes finally coming into her own when they have their first fight.

Musically, the show is mostly played through. Much of the story is sung, and even many of the spoken scenes are underscored. While the material is quite nostalgic, in places some of the lyrics are maddeningly repetitive or hackneyed such as those in “I Do! I Do!” and “What is a Woman?” respectively.

The most interesting and clever number in the show is “Nobody’s Perfect” when Michael and Agnes have their first real dispute over one another’s various irritating habits. The number is performed as a musical argument. Some of it is lyrical. Other sections of the number consist of rapid-fire rhythmic figures with a percussive accompaniment helping to punctuate the moment that comes off as sort of an old-fashioned rap before rap existed as an art form.

Amy Roberts’ costumes catch the march of time, and they provide a touch of elegance. Of particular note are costumes for a book party Michael and Agnes attend. Creer is very dapper in his pinstriped trousers, long coat, and ascot, and Trapp is lovely in her silver and gray ruffled gown. Larry Carothers provided a wonderful “Flaming Agnes” crown that must be seen to be believed, feathers and all.

Musical director/keyboardist Samuel Cisneros and fellow keyboardist Doug Forsyth play through the show beautifully, giving vigor to the jazzy, pop score that almost never sleeps. The orchestration calls for two pianos, one doubling celeste. While it would be nice to have acoustic pianos to add additional warmth and depth to the instrumentals, their electric keyboards fit nicely into the tight spot upstage of the bed.

I Do! I Do! incorporates equal measures of humor and light drama. While some of the material is dated, the show is gentle and is appropriate for all ages, though a mature audience will more fully appreciate the nostalgic aspects.

What: I Do! I Do! with book & lyrics by Tom Jones, and music by Harvey Schmidt

When: Continues through 28 February 2016

Where: Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 N. San Pedro Square, San Jose, CA

Info: See www.tabardtheatre.org or call 800-838-3006.

(Photo courtesy of Tabard Theatre Company)

Additional references:
I Do! I Do! (The Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Fourposter: A Comedy in Three Acts (The Samuel French Theater Bookshop, #59)

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