Marry Me A Little (St James Theatre)
Laura Pitt-Pulford and Simon Bailey impress in the compilation of several Stephen Sondheim songs at the St James Studio
Stephen Sondheim's songs - as complicated as they often are - provide endlessly malleable material, gathered together in any number of configurations to tell a multitude of stories.
Marry me a Little, a concept of Craig Lucas and Rene Norman from the late 1970s, takes songs originally excised from various Sondheim shows (including Follies, A Little Night Music and Company) and brings them together in a narrative about a man and woman's relationship in New York.
A simple enough idea, but nothing about Sondheim is easy, and the songs that form Marry me a Little are Sondheim's usual blend of tongue-twisting lyrics, sharp observational humour and the occasional musical discord that reflects life in the big city.
Laura Pitt-Pulford brings a soaring operatic soprano to the role of the unnamed woman, effortlessly performing the comic "Can That Boy Foxtrot!", the jazzy "The Girls of Summer" and the title song (probably the best-known of the set after its reinstatement in Company).
Simon Bailey (one of the four-man musical theatre group, Teatro) injects strength, emotion and a surprising vulnerability through his faultless tenor. Pitt-Pulford's and Bailey's voices combine beautifully in their duets, particularly the duelling "Two Fairy Tales" and the energetic "Bang!".
The performers could do with a little more space than the cramped stage of the St James Studio, where the audience is also shoe-horned into the auditorium, cabaret-style. In the small area, the piece sounds over-amplified at times. Fortunately that doesn't detract from the power of the beautifully-controlled performances or Hannah Chissick's sharp direction, with perfectly-judged pacing and a fine degree of emotional intensity as the man and woman go through the pangs of a relationship to the almost inevitable break-up.
Simon Anthony Wells' set is all recognisable IKEA-chic, with neutral sofa, humorous accent cushions and white bookshelves, as timeless as the songs and the storyline.
Marry me a Little is set to a simple piano accompaniment by David Randall (musical director). It needs nothing more.