Wondering how to spend a Saturday night alone has plagued single folks since fasting before Sunday communion fell out of fashion. Marry Me a Little opens with two New Yorkers pondering this question musically. Known only as Young Man and Young Woman, the pair navigate their respective evenings of solitude in separate bachelor apartments, stacked on top of each other.
First staged off-Broadway in 1980, Marry Me was the brainchild of Craig Lucas and Norman René, creators of the hit musical Prelude to a Kiss (later adapted as the considerably less successful Meg Ryan film). Conceived as a sort of salvage project for Stephen Sondheim’s “trunk songs,” the revue-style piece builds its story almost entirely with tunes cut from Sondheim’s other shows.
“It’s a very open piece, in terms of the concept and the lyrics,” says Paul Sportelli, musical director of Tarragon Theatre’s current production. “In rehearsals, we’re constantly asking ourselves what a certain lyric means in this context and what story we want to tell with a particular song. Because of how it’s constructed, a huge amount of the story is left to the interpretation of the team.”
Sportelli is well versed in Sondheim’s catalogue, having worked on productions of nearly all his shows. Though he’d never seen Marry Me before this production, he knew many of the songs from his days playing in New York piano bars.
Like many gay men, his love of musical theatre dates back to childhood. His mother was a regular performer in small-town Connecticut community theatre, and she would often take him to rehearsals. While the other kids were chucking rocks in the parking lot, Sportelli was inside mesmerized by the action onstage. That spark led to a career that now spans three decades.
“I was playing piano for musicals by the time I was in grade school,” he says. “I think my fate was pretty much sealed then.”