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Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009

Tender Comedy

Theater Review

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The Skylight's sleek, effective new production of I DO! I DO! does just about everything right in updating this 1966 musical satire with fresh appeal for modern audiences. Much of the credit must go to Artistic Director Bill Theisen and stage director Dorothy Danner, whose subtle staging brings a refreshing transparency to what might have been a dated, sentimental revival.

To audiences accustomed to dramas about single parenting and dysfunctional families, this ingenuous musical tale charmingly conjures up the fabled turn-of-the-century families wherein marriages always worked out right despite the sorrows, laughter, hopes and disappointments that most couples experience before they realize what makes marriage a rewarding lifelong experience. Yet the Skylight's venture seems consistently vibrant and new, with nostalgia never allowed to spill into mawkishness, but rather appealingly peppered with bright dashes of comedy.

Written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt and based upon Jan De Hartog's 1952 play, The Fourposter,I DO! I DO! has appealed to such fabled stage couples as Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer, and Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The Skylight offers another congenial pairing in Norman Moses and Leslie Fitzwater, who balance out the sentiment with their very individual styles, yet bring a pungent sense of comedic warmth, neither old-fashioned nor newly over-conditioned, never allowing bathos to substitute for nostalgia, or for comedic overkill to overwhelm the sentiment.

Fitzwater, who resembles and sounds like a younger Ruth Gordon, brings a stabilizing irony to the proceedings with a wryly subdued femininity, leaving the broader humorous touches to Moses, who does not sing as well but whose masculine self-assurance and greater affinity for comedy balances out her more subtle humorous rejoinders. They make a terrific pair of opposites, leaving no wonder that this marriage will flounder before it succeeds. The musical numbers serve their purpose effortlessly, emerging from the vignette at hand but never with show-stopping bravura. The score is not memorable except for the lovely "My Cup Runneth Over." Fortunately, neither is there room for emotionally manipulative pauses-"moments of poignant reflection"-designed to discomfort the audience by forcing them to "really care."

If the more tender sentiments of I DO! I DO! seem out of tune with our times, and if moments verge on the precious, little is amiss or is missed here. The value of this fine show is the authentic sense of satisfaction it gave to a grateful audience.

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