The program for “Marry Me a Little,” which The Women’s Theater Company is currently presenting at the Parsippany Playhouse in Lake Hiawatha, calls it “A Musical by Stephen Sondheim.” More specifically, it’s a revue built around Sondheim songs. Even more specifically, it’s a revue built around Sondheim songs that, in most cases, were cut from other Sondheim works, including “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
Fortunately, even second-tier Sondheim songs are better than what most other songwriters can come up with. “Marry Me a Little” is a charming (albeit slight) portrait of two lonely people who might make a perfect couple … if they ever actually became a couple. But even though their paths do cross in the course of the hour-long revue, they make only a fleeting connection to each other. Staying mostly in their parallel universes, they yearn, they reminisce, they embark on a few tangents (such as golf, in the humorous “Pour Le Sport”), and there’s a hopeful though not overly optimistic ending.
There’s no real plot, just the songs, crafted into a show by Craig Lucas and Norman René (with Sondheim’s blessing), and first presented Off-Off-Broadway in 1980.
Joe Elefante and Patricia Durante give low-key performances as the man and the woman, moving around the stage — or dancing a little bit — smoothly and calmly, exuding confidence, not angst. This is a totally appropriate way to go, since the songs’ tones tend to be wistful, not passionate.
These are adults who have already been through a lot. They’d like more from their lives, but are not totally unhappy where they are. The title song (originally written for “Company”) is about as lukewarm as a love song can be:
“Marry me a little,
Love me just enough.
Cry, but not too often,
Play, but not too rough.
Keep a tender distance
So we’ll both be free.
That’s the way it ought to be.”
Other songs include the sardonic “Happily Ever After,” and “Two Fairy Tales,” in which the two characters tell cleverly intertwined stories.
A single musician, pianist Rich Lovallo, accompanies Elefante and Durante throughout the evening. The sets are nothing fancy, but effectively evoke the upscale apartments in which the characters live, and the picturesque park to which they escape.
The Women’s Theater Company takes “Marry Me a Little” as far as it can go as a piece of theater. But really, it remains all about the songs, which are too good to be buried forever.
“Marry Me a Little” runs through June 5; visit womenstheater.org.