I Do! I Do! by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt. Directed by Carl Ritchie.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"God is Love"
In 1966, a year that saw Cy Colemanís adventurous "Sweet Charity," the triple one-act musical "The Apple Tree," based on three short stories by three American masters, the off-Broadway masterpiece, "Man With a Load of Mischief," and the exceptional throwback hit "Cabaret" Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, already famous for "The Fantasticks" and "110 in the Shade," adapted Jan de Hartogís 1951 play "The Fourposter" into a two-character musical. The story of a fifty year marriage with no end in sight, "I Do! I Do!" was a hit principally based on the performances of its stars, Mary Martin and Robert Preston. Here were two greats of the screen and stage coming together for the first time and producing an on-stage magnetism, hypnotic at times and constantly surprising. Here was art surpassed by artists. Not even Angela Lansbury and company, a few blocks away in the new Jerry Herman hit, "Mame" could surpass the power of these two stars.
The fact was that, in spite of a few very good musical numbers, the new Jones & Schmidt show was far inferior to the two hits that had preceded it. Its status as a hit show was directly linked to its two stars - comprising the entire on-stage company - and the presence of three very good songs: "Where Are the Snows?," "My Cup Runneth Over," and "I Love My Wife." In the new production by the Copake Theatre Company, in Copake, New York, those three songs are definitely given their due. There is a very lovely and unusual set designed by Helen Suter and lovely costumes by Joanne Maurer. Christine Wopat provides mood-driven lighting. The only thing missing is Martin and Preston.
In their absence we have Amy Fiebke and Robert Dalton. Both are lovely to look at, pretty easy to listen to and if they donít quite have the on-stage chemistry of their Broadway counterparts it really isnít anyoneís fault. We watch their characters, Agnes and Michael, wed, discover sex, have children, discover sexual freedom, have children, discover sexual innuendo, marry off their kids, discover recovered love and finally leave their home, together, with its fourposter bed. From start to finish they are haunted by two things, a gift pillow left on their wedding bed by Agnesí mother which reads "God is Love" and the effects of too much champagne.
The weakness of the book is that these two people, Agnes and Michael, donít really have all that much in common. Their sense of love and desire is based on a societal need to deny young people all access to such things without the convention of matrimony. When they realize how ill-suited they are, things go all to hell. It takes an extraordinary amount of charisma for any Michael and Agnes to continue their relationship and without that, and this item is definitely not in play on the Copake stage, there is no show.
The songs take up too much time and often donít say enough about the fire down below. As a result there is not enough development here and without the obvious animal attractions these two donít catch the flame. As good as Fiebke and Dalton are individually and in their singing duets, there is no fire blazing. No oneís fault, but it makes the show a bit flat.
Each has grand moments ("What is a Woman?" and "I Love My Wife") and a few fizzles ("Flaming Agnes" and "Good Night), but the director, Carl Ritchie, needed to find that right match that would make it all seem possible. In this world of regional theater, we often have to work with what is available and sometimes that is fine, but when you have a show that needs the extra, intangible something what is available is not enough.
Bravo to the actors for their courage, pluck and resourcefulness in doing hair, makeup and sometimes costume changes on stage during, or between, scenes. The show looks good and generally sounds okay, although the two keyboardists need to spend a bit more time rehearsing their tempi and polishing their own on-stage relationship.
This is my eighth production of this show and it has only really worked once, the first time, with Mary Martin and Robert Preston teasing, taunting, tweaking, loving and musically embracing all that is second rate and making it so much better. Itís a challenge that very few can take on and emerge as winners. In Copake the losers take it all and make it just about acceptable. Thatís not a bad achievement.
Robert Dalton as Michael and Amy Fiebke as Agnes; photo provided
Feibe and Dalton; photo provided
Fiebke and Dalton in the finale; photo supplied
"I Do! I Do!" plays at the Copake Grange through October 14. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5PM. For information and tickets call 518-325-1234.