Los Angeles/Regional Theater Review: I DO! I DO! (Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on July 18, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


With all the adorability, simplicity, cliché and generic tone of a Hallmark Card, I Do! I Do! opened last weekend at the Laguna Playhouse. Starring Broadway stalwarts Davis Gaines and Vicki Lewis, the 1966 two-character musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt (The Fantasticks) has aged surprisingly well, considering it has always been a carefully condensed and glossy time capsule of all the banal chestnuts that have ever been spawned by married folk. Over a fifty-year period beginning in the fin de siècle of Victorian America, we witness Michael and Agnes go from wedding night to parenthood to arguing to forlorn doubt and back to the love.

Since its inception, much of the reason for the musical’s success belongs to Jan de Hartog’s exquisite gem of a play on which it was based: The Fourposter. Written while the Dutch playwright hid from the Nazis in a home for the aged in 1943, the play – which opened on Broadway with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in 1951 Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of I DO! I DO! At Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach(directed by José Ferrer) – perfectly captured all the joys and adversities that any marriage of longevity can include. As duplicated for the musical, the set is the bedroom of Michael and Agnes’s fairly well-to-do home, with a fourposter bed dead center.

While the added score is hardly offensive, the songs never enhance de Hartog’s play until the second song of the second act, when the two sing the hit ballad “My Cup Runneth Over.” But this moment elucidated why this production refuses to veer from sentimental to emotionally satisfying. Gaines and Lewis, both in terrific voice, steamrolled through the achingly lovely tune as if they couldn’t wait to get to the next decade. Director Alan Souza’s extraordinary lack of both nuance and imagination permeated the evening, and the only times the play breathed was when the actors had lengthy costume changes offstage.

Since the characters are basically archetypes of any given marriage, the actors (originally Mary Martin and Robert Preston) must create a three-dimensional backstory out of whole cloth. Gaines was at his best when he played Michael as arrogant and happily thickheaded, both in the affair-admitting “Nobody’s Perfect” and the pompous and hysterically sexist “It’s a Well-Known Fact,” which was a Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of I DO! I DO! At Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beachhighlight. Brassy belter Lewis has pulled way back since I saw her in Mack & Mabel (also with Gaines) and Damn Yankees; less belt and more soul. Still, she just didn’t find a personality for Agnes – it was just Vicki Lewis as Vicki Lewis as Agnes. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t have one great solo, and her plaint about a female’s role in marriage, “What is a Woman?” is deplorable, especially given Jones’s witless and barely passable lyrics, which contain rhymes you can see coming a mile away. I just found myself hoping that these mega-watt stage performers would settle down and actually relate to each other. There were just too many moments that felt unnecessarily silly and broad, even as the actors maintained a patina of charm. Still, as mechanical, Broadway-style acting goes, the two pros were in fine form.

The dancing in the show (originally choreographed by Gower Champion) should never look like “numbers,” but somehow these do, looking a mite polished for a couple prancing about their bedroom. I suppose Souza also staged the dances, since only a director is credited. Given the wonderful blocking, it is safe to say that Souza Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of I DO! I DO! At Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beachstaged the entire evening well, but he didn’t direct it well. Music Director Helen Gregory and Matthew Smedal do exemplary work on the keyboards.

While never mawkish, the entire enterprise is no more or less than “cute,” a word I heard ad infinitum from the female spectators, and therefore a risky venture for any audience member who is not female and over 60. (Coincidentally, according to the Greeting Card association, women purchase an estimated 80% of all greeting cards, spend more time choosing a card than men, and are more likely to buy several cards at once. Laguna Playhouse certainly knows their audience.) This is a shaky musical to begin with, and needs more than cute, so even though this production was slathered in professionalism, I was happy to say “Adieu, adieu” to I Do! I Do!

photos by Ed Krieger

I Do! I Do!
Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach
scheduled to end on August 11, 2013
for tickets, call 949.497.ARTS (2787) or visit http://www.LagnaPlayhouse.com

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