If ever there was a musical which relies on its stars and director to work, it’s I Do! I Do! Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s adaptation of Jan de Hartog’s two-character The Fourposter follows 50 years of Michael and Agnes’ marriage, from their wedding day and night in 1898 to the day they vacate their family home in 1948.  Without the right team behind it, the show can be a bit of a bore, as a 99-seat production of it proved a few years back. But with a stellar trio like Broadway leading players Brad Little and Barbara McCulloh and multiple Emmy nominated director Will Mackenzie at the helm, I Do! I Do! can sparkle like the diamond in Agnes’ wedding ring, and sparkle this new production at the La Mirada Theatre most definitely does.

We meet Michael and Agnes as they prepare with some trepidation for their wedding, but they surmount their doubts and fears, tying the knot as real life ushers shower them with confetti from the aisles. Then come the wedding night jitters (this was 1898, after all).  Agnes sings “Goodnight” with a quiver in her voice as hubby puts on a nightshirt and cap.  “Do you wear a nightcap?” asks an aghast Agnes. “No!” exclaims Michael, quickly removing the offending object, allowing Agnes to reclaim her side of the bed.

Nerves overcome, the wedding night goes swimmingly, and the newlywed Michael sings of his wedded bliss in “I Love My Wife,” all the while spinning the center-stage four-poster (and Agnes on it) like a carousel.

“Something Has Happened,” sings Agnes, and turns around to reveal a very swollen belly. It’s Michael who has taken to bed, however, insistently ringing a large bell and calling out “Agnes!” more than once. The cause of Michael’s distress is “sympathetic labor pains,” a not very sympathetic Agnes discovers. After all it’s still she who has to clean up after “ailing” hubby.  (Watch McCulloh’s comic attempts (a la Lucy) to pick up a pillow which has fallen to the floor, followed by the funniest “I’m about to have a baby” scene since Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky.)

Daddy seems to get all the enjoyment out of having a newborn, while Mommy not only has to take care of baby, she’s got to do the laundry, stringing a long long line of baby clothes clear across the stage.  Daddy, meanwhile, delights in wearing his son’s Indian headdress, riding junior’s tricycle, donning a cowboy hat, and shooting a play cowboy pistol like the 6’2” child he is. 

“Try not to interrupt me while I’m working dear,” author Michael tells Agnes, but it’s she who’s doing all the housework, at one time hoisting a box twice her size as Michael describes to the audience the process of writing a novel.  Later, the bordering-on-obnoxious Michael persists in correcting Agnes’ grammar, all the while complaining that he can’t find this or that’s whereabouts, which Agnes almost always knows.  When Michael locates something he’s misplaced, he shouts out to Agnes, “Someone must have put it there,” to which wife replies sardonically, “Well, you can’t argue with that.”

As the years pass, Michael delights in staying attractive even at 41, singing (in “It’s A Well-Known Fact”) that as a man gets older, he just gets better. “Men go to town, women go to pot,” he warbles to an unappreciative Agnes, who later counters with her own “Flaming Agnes,” wearing a garish hat which sports more feathers (in more rainbow colors) than audience members may ever have seen.

But as the years pass, it becomes clear that these are two people who fit together like pieces in a puzzle, and even pompous Michael has won us over, as he did Agnes so many years before.

Little, who has played Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom over 2000 times on Broadway and throughout the world, brings his considerable talents to Michael. The role allows him to demonstrate his triple threat gifts, as does Agnes to McCulloh, his real life wife, who herself has starred on Broadway in Peter Pan and The King And I. Both are perfection here, he, more than a bit of a stuffed shirt, and she, deliciously spontaneous and perky. As time passes and Michael and Agnes fight and reconcile, Little and McCulloh do some very real acting, with many large chunks of The Fourposter dialog remaining intact.  In fact, the older Michael and Agnes get, the better Little and McCulloh are.

Mackenzie (remembered as Larry Bondurant on the original Bob Newhart Show) has directed countless episodes of Scrubs, Everybody Loves Raymond, Reba, and many other TV sitcoms. He also starred on Broadway opposite four different superstar Dollys in Hello Dolly, and later staged the 1996 New York revival of I Do! I Do!, which was I believe the first major production to utilize the two piano accompaniment used here. Clearly, with his acting and directing chops firmly established, Mackenzie is the right man to direct Little and McCulloh here, and the three make up a terrific team. 

For a show with just two actors, there’s a lot of dancing in I Do! I Do!, winningly choreographed by Broadway vet Janet Watson.  There’s Michael’s soft shoe in bare feet in “I Love My Wife” and his hoofing in top hat, cane, and robe in “It’s A Well-Known Fact.”  Agnes bumps, grinds, and does the hoochie coochie with the best of them in “Flaming Agnes.”  Later the couple dance a romantic waltz to another of Schmidt’s lovely melodies.

Jones and Schmidt’s score (they also wrote The Fantasticks and 110 In The Shade) is best known for “My Cup Runneth Over,” but it is full of memorable songs which run the gamut of genres. Gifted musical director/conductor Darryl Archibald is joined by the equally talented Steven Smith on piano, providing a perhaps more fitting backup than did the full orchestra of the original Mary Martin/Robert Preston Broadway production.

John Iacovelli’s scenic design is one of his best, in rich warm colors, and full of the knickknacks that accumulate in any house over the years. (Terry Hanrahan is the properties designer.)  A chandelier descends at one moment to show that Michael’s writing has made them oodles of money and multicolored streamers later descend at a moment of great wedded joy. R. Kent Sheranian’s lighting enhances Iacovelli’s set and Jones’ book, turning rose-colored to accent Michael and Agnes’ honeymoon bliss and bright red for “Flaming Agnes.”  Lisa Zinni’s marvelous costumes span the years and the major (and minor) events in Michael and Agnes’ life together. Sound at the La Mirada is always problematic for their musicals, but sound designer Josh Bessom does his best to surmount the theater’s acoustics and sound system.

So, you may be asking after a rave like this, how could a production of I Do! I Do end up “a bit of a bore?”  Part of the potential problem is Michael’s rather annoying nature and Agnes’ bordering-on-saccharine sweetness, which in the hands of lesser performers can be off-putting. There’s also the fact that 40ish actors may be hard to swallow as characters half their ages in the early scenes.  Finally, there’s the somewhat dated nature of the book’s male/female dynamics, especially in the early scenes. Audience reaction, particularly of the 70something ladies in attendance last night, proves that there is much to identify with in Michael and Agnes, but younger audience members might find some of this a bit creaky.

Fortunately here, Little and McCulloh triumph over the show’s weaknesses and as much as I trumpet West Coast musical theater talent in my reviews (second to none, I believe), it’s a pleasure to welcome a couple of “East Coasters” to our sunny climes, especially in a production as bright and winning as this one.

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard La Mirada.

–Steven Stanley
April 15, 2008
Photos: Michael Lamont

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