Happily ever after goes by in a flash in "Marry Me a Little."
This 1980 song cycle recycles tunes from early in Stephen Sondheim's career as well as numbers that got cut from now iconic musicals such as "Follies," "A Little Night Music" and "Company." Since TheatreWorks artistic director Robert Kelley has long been in love with the Sondheim songbook, it's easy to see why he was drawn to this valentine to the master. Over the years, TheatreWorks has staged 19 Sondheim productions from "Into the Woods" and "Pacific Overtures" to "Passion."
For the record, this 75-minute piece isn't quite up to those lofty standards. Charming but slight, it's really more of a revue than a musical, and there are times when you long to hear the songs set in a deeper context. But there's no denying the wit and sparkle that have made Sondheim such a towering figure. The seldom-staged musical anthology runs through June 29 at the Mountain View Center for the Arts, and it closes the season on a pleasant note.
Romance is the throughline in Sondheim's works, and no one charts the path from ecstasy to regret with as much nuance. Here the songs of love and loss are framed by two comely but lonely twentysomethings a floor apart in a San Francisco Victorian chopped up into apartments. They are mere feet from each other every day, but unaware each other exists. Their various and sundry torch songs, presented as romantic illusions and fantasies even when the two are together, are spliced together with mathematical precision.
Kelley has transported the action to the Internet age, which heightens the sense of alienation and longing but also comes off as a tad precious. However, it's hard to resist Bruce McLeod's storybook set with its San Francisco skyline and shooting stars.
He (A.J. Shively) is a scruffy, bike-riding dude who works at a tech start up by day and binges on "Game of Thrones" by night. She (Sharon Rietkerk) has a thing for power yoga and a bit of an Amazon addiction. They both communicate with the world largely by texting, and they both love to unwind with the Nintendo Wii.
Neither character has a name and both are more universal archetypes than flesh-and-blood individuals, which undercuts the power of the songs. Sondheim's genius springs from the specificity he brings to each lyric, each note. Conceived by playwright Craig Lucas and director Norman Rene, this loosely constructed narrative is entirely sung-through with no dialogue to stitch together changes of scope or tone.
Not all of the songs are a perfect fit for this wistful duet, and the concept of this offbeat pas-de-deux sometimes feels strained, but none of that will matter to Sondheim devotees because the songs are always the main attraction.
Certainly you can't fault the actors, both of whom sing their hearts out. Rietkerk, who played Meg in "Little Women" last year, radiates sauciness in "Can That Boy Foxtrot," and she captures the sizzle of the blues with the title song from "The Girls of Summer." Shively mines the cheekiness from "Bang!" and "Your Eyes Are Blue."
Kelley, as ever, burnishes the musical interludes to an elegant shimmer that reminds you how much more depth there is in Sondheim than in most of his successors. That's the real love story here, the undying devotion between a theater company and one of its favorite composers.
Created by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene from music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, presented by TheatreWorks
Through: June 29
Where: TheatreWorks, Mountain View Center
for the Performing Arts,
500 Castro St.
Running time: 1 hour,
15 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $19-$73, 650-463-1960, www.theatreworks.org