Aisle of the Damned

I don't find married couples particularly amusing, but I do enjoy watching Bob Sorenson and Debby Rosenthal perform. Good thing, too, because these two local institutions are the only reason to sit through I Do! I Do!, the passé paean to matrimony with which Phoenix Theatre is currently torturing unsuspecting audiences.

Unfortunately, not even the considerable talents of Rosenthal (who's recently returned from a several-years-long theater hiatus) and Sorenson (who's visiting from New York, where he appears in something other than dreck like this) can hoist this heap of rubbish. Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the same crooks who brought us the relentless musicality of The Fantasticks, are responsible for the book and music here, which once upon a time might have seemed witty and insightful. Today, I Do! I Do! has a beard a mile long and, as ever, not a single memorable tune.

The program's only distinction is that, when it bowed in 1966, it was the first-ever Broadway musical to feature only two performers. Based on Jan de Hartzog's play The Fourposter, I Do! I Do! follows young marrieds Michael and Agnes from their late-19th-century wedding day through their 50-year marriage. Twenty minutes in, Agnes begins popping out babies, and the relentlessly happy tunes go from ain't-young-love-grand to ain't-young-parenting-grand in the space of a stanza. We're there for their midlife crises, their tuneful infidelities, and the marriages of their children. It's all played and sung as charmingly as can be by Rosenthal and Sorenson, but even its intended audience the blue hairs who filled the theater on opening night seemed only vaguely amused.

The rest of us were left to look beyond the fusty material, where we found a good deal of wasted talent: Sorenson's splendid clowning (particularly in "It's a Well-Known Fact," a number tailor-made for his brand of visual punch line); Rosenthal's faultless singing (especially her solo on "What Is a Woman?"); and a host of capable backstage help, all put to the test. Director Brad Carroll often keeps his players offstage too long between tunes, but otherwise creates a consistently pleasant staging. Choreographer Michael Barnard adds attractive steps to several bridges, and the splendid co-stars of this show, gifted pianists Ron Colvard and Andria Fennig, sneak bits of more memorable tunes into Schmidt's sodden score all to no avail.

The only thing more amusing than the scary sleep bonnet Rosenthal dons in the second act which looks for all the world like a pan of Jiffy Pop, and which evoked my single laugh of the evening was the response of the Phoenix Theatre board members seated behind me. Upon discovering the "vote for next year's play roster!" ballot in their programs, they offered overheard dialogue more entertaining than anything up on stage.

"Oh my God who's responsible for this list?" one of them hissed. "You mean I have to decide between Damn Yankees and A Chorus Line? Oh, no not Noel Coward! Who's picking this crap? We need to address this at the next board meeting. Let's stuff the ballot box."

Billed as "an evening-long journey through 50 years of marital bliss," I Do! I Do! plays like a several-weeks-long journey through squandered talent one better retitled Please Don't! Please Don't! for any company that might consider producing it in the future.