“I Do! I Do!”—Westport Country Playhouse. through Sept 4  

--Irene Backalenick

 “I Do! I Do!” is a charming little two-character musical now holding forth at the Westport Country Playhouse. What saves this clearly outdated piece is the superb work of its two performers—Kate Baldwin and Lewis Cleale. These two are absolutely in tune with the songs and story—and with each other, never missing a beat as they glide through each moment. Their voices are rich and satisfying, their characterizations on target, their chemistry perfect.
           
The story traces a 50-year marriage, beginning in 1898, which most of us realize with a shock are our parents’ marriages (if they had happened to be good marriages). Looking back at this era (before the sexual revolution or feminist awakening) this musical (and the marriage itself) seems hopelessly passe.
          
Yet “I Do! I Do!” has had an astonishingly popular history, even to this day. Beginning in the early ‘40s as a play (“The Fourposter”) by Dutch playwright Jan de Hartog, it went on to a solid Broadway run in 1951 with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. Later, in 1966, it would become a successful Broadway musical, with impeccable credentials--produced by David Merrick, directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, performed by Mary Martin and Robert Preston, and written by Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music). And along the way, not surprisingly, a film version of “The Fourposter” surfaced with Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer.                 

Considering that the Jones/Schmidt team wrote “The Fantasticks,” the longest-running production on the American stage, one understands the sweet innocence of “I Do! I Do!” Both Jones/Schmidt shows share that trait.      

Michael and Agnes, as they are called in the musical, sail through the years, with serious problems rarely ruffling the surface. Of course Michael has a brief mid-life crisis involving another woman. But that passes as quickly as a summer storm. Of course they quibble over minor problems—he can’t find his shirt, she spends too much on clothes, he snores, she tires of waiting on him—but their love endures. Neither is remotelyconcerned with World War I, the ’29 stock market crash, the Depression, the rise of Hitler, World War II.
           
It is a Jones/Schmidt NeverNeverLand, which even Wilson Chin’s cartoon-like set underscores, as do the tunes--not memorable but pleasant and light-hearted.

But Playhouse theatergoers may find this escapism refreshing, particularly after the work-out Mark Lamos offered them with his last production--Beckett’s “Happy Days.”

But whatever the limitations of “I Do! I Do!” as a musical or as social commentary, Baldwin and Cleale save the day. They show what two smoothly-professional performers can accomplish.  

This review also appears in the Connecticut Post and on nytheaterscene.com

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