Dallas — The two basic questions of good casting are “can these actors handle the roles,” and “are they available.” Fortunately for Penny Ayn Maas (director) and Bruce Greer (musical director), Sarah Gay and Christopher J. Deaton can and were, and are proving it as Agnes and Michael in Lyric Stage’s production of I Do! I Do! at The Majestic Theatre in Dallas. They are captivating, and perfectly suited for performing this open presentational musical theatre style which was developed by lyricist Tom Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt.
I Do! I Do! is an intimate two-character piece, one that traditionally might not be considered viable on the big proscenium stage because of concern over the loss of warmth. However, Jones and Schmidt abandoned the traditional architectural formula for building a show and came up with a model that works well for bringing intimate pieces to the large stage. They simplified the process by utilizing the basic elements of set and spectacle. The set for this production is clean, simple, efficient and unchanging, mirroring that of the play upon which the musical is based, Jan de Hartog’s Tony Award-winning play, The Fourposter.
Scored for two grand pianos, pianists Bruce Greer and Jennifer Ferguson are upstage and visible to the audience. In front of the pianos is a large bed which has a two-poster headboard. Scenic designer Randel Wright has placed an actor’s upright trunk downstage left for the husband, and another downstage right for the wife. Each actor works from their trunk including costume changes (designer Catherine Carpenter Cox) which occur in view of the audience. The only other set pieces are a chair, chaise, and two small bedside tables. This leaves a generous playing area for choreography and for establishing exterior and external locations. Julie N. Simmons’ lighting design reinforces the staging to ensure the audience does not get lost or confused regarding location or time of day.
The storyline for I Do! I Do! is predictable: the highlights in a marriage spanning 50 years. Their wedding, the birth of their children, his affair, their reconciliation, his career, her life as a woman during a time when women had limited opportunities, and the wedding of their daughter.
Dialogue and musical numbers are fairly evenly balanced in this musical which affords each actor nice solo moments. Deaton and Gay are well-matched in acting and singing. Most appreciated is their establishment of moments as opposed to the presentational song and dance to the audience approach. Gay and Deaton tell the story in front of an audience, which is not the same as pitching the story to an audience.
Longtime Dallas resident Schmidt had planned to attend this Lyric Stage production of I Do! I Do! but he died February 28, 2018.
Creators Schmidt and Jones are native Texans from small towns. The two met while students at the University of Texas at Austin. Jones was a graduate student in drama with a flair for the comedic in his scripts. Schmidt knew hardly anything about musical theatre but because he was the only person who knew how to play a piano, he was drafted into working with the drama students on a musical, Hipsy-Boo! The show was a sellout and when Jones was next asked to direct a production, he went to Schmidt for the musical score. These small town Texas men whom some might have considered among the least likely to, went on to hit the American musical theatre lottery with The Fantasticks (1960) which became the longest production in the history of the American stage even though it never played Broadway.
I Do! I Do! was their most successful Broadway production (1966) and their third collaboration. Their first Broadway show was 110 in the Shade, a show that Lyric Stage producer Steven Jones confessed to having a soft spot for. Lyric Stage established to The Schmidt and Jones Awards “honor excellence in high school musical theatre.”
There is no obvious relationship between the two bits of trivia that follow—but they are interesting given their placement within historical events…
Jan de Hartog was a member of the Dutch resistance to the Nazi efforts, which put his life in danger. He was taken in by an old woman and hidden in a home for seniors, dressed as a woman until it was safe for him to leave for England. It was during this time in hiding that he wrote The Fourposter.
The original production of I Do! I Do! previewed in 1966 which was the same year Betty Friedan formed the National Organization for Women (NOW), effectively cementing the women’s rights movement.
Historical significance aside, this production of I Do! I Do! upholds Lyric Stage’s reputation for producing quality musical theater.