'Marry Me a Little' revival loses a lot

Lauren Molina and Jason Tam in a scene

Lauren Molina and Jason Tam in a scene from Keen Company's production of Stephen Sondheim's “Marry Me a Little,” directed by Jonathan Silverstein. At the Clurman Theatre in Manhattan through Oct. 21, 2012. (Credit: Carol Rosegg)

When "Marry Me a Little" first opened in 1981, the revue by Craig Lucas and Norman René did two things exceptionally well.

First, it retrieved 17 trunk songs that had been cut from Stephen Sondheim's known musicals or from works known only by Sondheim fanatics. Also, this modest but influential show ingeniously let us watch the private fantasies and fears of two New Yorkers as each spent a Saturday night alone in identical apartments in the same building. They never met and they had no speaking lines in what somehow became a one-act musical solo for two.

I remember being bowled over by these "lost" Sondheim songs that, like so many of his best ones, build complex personalities from hot and cold ambivalence. But I was also moved by two people (the man portrayed by Lucas) behaving as if no one were watching as they verbalized the gaps between romantic fantasy and the fear of commitment, the mysterious imbalance between loneliness and the pleasure of being alone. You know, each wanted to be married -- but only a little.

The show has been revived for the first time, and many things are different. Most obviously, that title song is now inextricably part of Sondheim's "Company" and, as the world came around to his genius, many lost songs are now found.

Unfortunately, director Jonathan Silverstein's staging for his Keen Company has none of the wistful charm and emotional depth of the original. Lauren Molina and Jason Tam play the sort of hip young beauties who can easily be imagined on the way out to a club.

It isn't the texting and the cool clothes that make this update feel so hollow. Rather, interpretations of the songs are coarsely sexed-up and the performers overact as few would if they didn't have an audience.

Silverstein knows this is supposed to be intimate, so at least nobody is bellowing on a microphone. But the voices are unremarkable, as if the actors were cast more for their ability to look good in underwear than to sound wonderful in this music. And both seem so in love with themselves that it's hard to imagine either has room for anyone else.

WHAT "Marry Me a Little"

WHERE Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., Manhattan

INFO $69.25; 212-239- 6200; keencompany.org

BOTTOM LINE Mediocre revival, beloved revue

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