Plano — One doesn't attend the musical I Do! I Do! (or in this case, I Do! I Do! I Do! I Do!), expecting soul-searching, deep theater. One goes expecting a frothy concoction, with slight bits of tension thrown in for dramatic effect, about the delights and dips of marriage.
Happily, the new Brick Road Theatre company serves up about as sumptuous a rendition of this oldie-but-updated-goodie that one could hope for. It's Brick Road's inaugural production, under artistic director/founding producer Noelle Chesney, and it's a winner in every way. Opening night at Plano’s Courtyard Theatre saw a few microphone glitches, but they were fixed quickly.
The musical, by Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music), was originally conceived as a two-character vehicle for Broadway legend Mary Martin, who hails from Weatherford. (Her son Larry Hagman was born in Fort Worth). It covers the marriage of one couple as they progress from dewy, youthful optimism, not to mention utter cluelessness, to older-but-wiser and still in love. The musical, based on Jan de Hartog’s Tony-winning play The Fourposter, made headlines here in 1974 when Carol Burnett and Rock Hudson performed it at the Dallas Summer Musicals.
Jones and Schmidt have shined up this effervescent gem with a simple but significant change: revamping it to star eight actors instead of two, with four different sets playing Agnes and Michael through their 50-odd years of wedded...well, mostly bliss. Great way to cut out the hassle of aging makeup. Brick Road scored a triumph in landing the regional premiere.
The Broadway original garnered seven 1967 Tony Award nominations, and Robert Preston took home the trophy as best leading man in a musical. The women get most of the showy singing parts, but (as Preston's win demonstrated) the men get the best zingers and also some terrific vocal moments. The cast here is uniformly superb, led by She Who Apparently Never Sleeps, the vastly talented Linda Leonard, who directed and choreographed the show and also stars as Agnes No. 3, as the couple enters late-middle age.
Leonard's choreography is flawless. The couples dance in every scene, and Leonard somehow makes the moves look both improvised and polished. One sequence is repeated twice, with the newlyweds in Scene 1 making it up as they go along, and then later with an older Agnes and Michael and a bit more coordination. It makes us feel like they've been practicing this dance every now and then throughout their union—one of those special little "our things" that make for the best marriages.
This one, set from the turn of the last century through the mid-20th-century, has its bumps—early pregnancy, infidelity, and most seriously, a husband who acts exactly as most husbands did then: expecting coddling and at-my-whim service by the little woman even as she balances laundry, takes care of babies and scurries around picking up his dropped-wherever bits of clothing. Michael is a writer, so he works at home, which exacerbates the tension. He goes from serious fiction and nonfiction before finally succumbing to the better lifestyle acquired through romance novels.
Agnes starts feeling her oats in Scene 2, the best of the four, starring the brilliant Janelle Lutz and the uproarious Jason Bias. She's probably tired of the comparison, but Lutz gives off such a young-Judy Garland vibe that it's startling. She's got the wide-eyed look, the ferocity and the voice. I was thinking this before reading her bio at intermission, where I learned that she played Garland in Uptown Players' The Boy From Oz. Of course she did.
The Garland comparison should not, however, distract from Lutz's own power as a performer. The theater gods may strike me for saying this, but what the hell: Lutz is a better actress than Garland ever was, and she has a bombshell voice. See her while you can; if justice prevails in the theater world, she'll be on Broadway before we know it. After this show, she'll appear in the October world premiere of Creep at Addison's Water Tower Theatre, as will Leonard. Lutz will also play Garland next season at Uptown.
Lutz and Leonard, who can belt a song all the way to Cincinnati, undeniably steal the show. But all of the actors deserve recognition; they stand up against the best that Dallas-Fort Worth has to offer. The others are Connie Marie Bentham and Philip Bentham (who got married in real life in July, and play the newlyweds in Scene 1), Dan Servetnick as Leonard's partner, and Ivy Opdyke and Forbes Leon Woods as the elder Agnes and Michael.
The design elements also excel, with costumes by Gary James, music by Byron Holder and lighting by Eric Gray. A credit is not given for the set design (perhaps it was a group effort?) but whoever did it also deserves applause. The same furniture is used to represent the couple's bedroom throughout, with minuscule but clever touches to suggest the passing of years.
With only two more performances, get your tickets fast. You'll certainly walk out humming the songs, especially Lutz's stunning, sultry "Flaming Agnes" and the lovely "Someone Needs Me" by Leonard and Servetnick.