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Alumni discuss performing in musical production ‘Marry Me A Little’

(Amber Lee/Daily Bruin)

"Marry Me a Little"

Feb. 9-27

International City Theatre

$37-55

By Krish Aditya

Feb. 9, 2022 11:23 a.m.

Stephen Sondheim’s hidden gems are seeing the light in “Marry Me A Little.”

Featuring 17 lesser-known compositions from the late musical composer, the production will be running Wednesday through Feb. 27 at the International City Theatre in Long Beach. Alumni Katy Tang and Nick Tubbs play the only two roles in the show – the unnamed woman and man who use Sondheim’s songs to reflect on love in their separate apartments. Tang said she was initially daunted by the role but was ultimately excited to be a part of a show that is not often produced.

“The songs that aren’t usually heard that were either taken out of a show or not done at all – that’s exciting for (the audience) to discover,” Tang said.

First produced in 1980 as a musical revue of Sondheim’s work, “Marry Me A Little” is comprised entirely of songs drawn from early versions of several Sondheim musicals. The production is not simply a recital of Sondheim’s music, director Kari Hayter said, but instead tells a new story about love and loneliness. Tang said she appreciated the musical’s indistinct genre, which is more akin to an opera, a style of theatrical performance she became familiar with during her time at UCLA.

[Related: Student-directed play drives home consequences of suppressed emotions]

In his experience preparing for the role, Tubbs said Sondheim’s innovative musical style can pose a refreshing challenge for most actors. Preparing the show’s music kept him on his toes, Tubbs said, as he worked through the rhythmic and melodic intricacies of Sondheim’s songs. As for Tang, the complexity of the lyrics, the substance of the character and the challenges of the music made the rehearsal process more satisfying to her as a performer.

In terms of the show’s mosaic style, Tubbs said he appreciated the inventive way in which the songs were woven together. His favorite number from the show is combined from cut pieces from Sondheim’s “Follies” and “A Little Night Music” and fuses two disparate songs to take the audience on a journey, Tubbs said. The production’s structure was a welcome challenge for Hayter, who said she enjoyed discovering the shape of the narrative through seemingly disconnected songs.

“That’s been the beauty of the staging that we’ve created together,” Hayter said. “How do we find these moments of song? Where do they come from and what inspires them?”

The show’s exploration of isolation and the search for connection also offered the company a chance for meaningful discovery, Tubbs said. The shared experiences of the past two years allowed everyone involved in the production to contribute more to the show, though the narrative didn’t explicitly spotlight the COVID-19 pandemic, Tang said.

“There’s even more of a heightened awareness around relating, connecting physically, but then also being alone and what that grief is,” Tang said. “There’s different colors and layers there that come through (in the production), even if (we’re) not trying to highlight it.”

[Related: Alumni appear in Singing Revolution musical, discuss parallels to modern times]

On a broader scale, Tang said Sondheim’s passing in November 2021 also magnified the production’s timeliness. Hayter said she was excited to show audiences unheard works of the prolific composer, whose contributions to Broadway include musicals such as “Company,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Into the Woods.” However, Sondheim’s passing did not shape the way she approached the story, Hayter said, but rather gave her a greater appreciation for his work that she hoped the audience would be able to find as well.

As a collection of Sondheim’s more obscure songs, “Marry Me A Little” aims to deliver a novel theatrical experience for both the average theatergoer and the seasoned Sondheim fan, Tubbs said. In the end, Hayter said she hopes the production will challenge audience members as they navigate the shape and placement of many distinct pieces of music.

“It definitely is a show that is challenging to watch in a good way,” Hayter said. “Where’s that song going? What is this song saying? How does it fit in with the world that this production has created? Trying to figure that out is a good challenge. I always love musical theater that can challenge.”

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