A Love Thing

Postcards from a 50-year marriage

It's perfect timing. I Do! I Do! is an ideal Valentine's show for married couples. Dine at one of the fine restaurants on Delmar Boulevard, then take a short ride down Big Bend to the Fontbonne East Building theater, and you're set. Written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt (of Fantasticks fame), this musical offers up postcards from a 50-year marriage, picture-perfect glimpses of a long-term relationship. The 1966 debut of I Do! I Do! was a star vehicle for Mary Martin and Robert Preston. Spotlight Theatre's production features Pamela Reckamp and John Flack, both veteran St. Louis musical-theater talents.

The first act of this marriage marathon starts with the wedding. Anxious bridegroom Michael practices his "I do," worried that he might accidentally say, "I don't." Director F. Reed Brown smartly uses the audience as wedding guests. The tension of the first night follows, with naïve Agnes nervously admitting, "I've never seen a man -- you know -- undressed," and the two shy lovers coming together. Michael, wearing a nightshirt and brown socks, then launches into "I Love My Wife," a marvelous soft-shoe number.

Just as the childhood rhyme announces, after love and marriage comes a baby carriage. Two children are added to this family portrait, creating more work for Agnes and more bills for Michael. If that sounds old-fashioned, note that the play is set from 1898-48, so traditional gender roles are in play. The next marital snapshot brings a magazine-worthy "Can This Marriage Be Saved" episode. As Agnes angrily points out that "Nobody's Perfect," Michael calmly explains that men over 40 are in their prime, whereas women over 40 simply go to pot. (There were almost audible hisses from the audience.) This "Well-Known Fact" is Michael's excuse for falling in love with a younger woman, and Agnes reacts with a fantasy about the racy life she'll be able to lead as a divorced woman (another fun "pajama dance" moment.)

Agnes packs her bags and leaves. Michael carries her back in -- caveman style -- and reveals (cue the violins) that he'd only been trying to get her attention, and he still loves her. She forgives him. End Act 1.

This abrupt reconciliation is the first false note of the production; a similarly difficult transition occurs near the end of Act 2. After their children's marriages, empty-nest mother Agnes loses her sense of identity, realizes that she doesn't love Michael any more and decides to step out into life on her own terms. This scene of dramatic realism (with echoes of Nora's groundbreaking, husband-leaving speech in A Doll's House) convinces us Agnes is right -- she should strike out on her own. So when Michael gives her a meaningful gift (apparently his first unselfish act) and declares that she should stay because he needs her, it's hard to believe that suddenly she's back in love with him and all is well.

But that, perhaps, is the point of the play. Maybe it's the leaps that don't make sense that save a relationship. As they sing at the end: "Marriage is a very good thing, though it's far from easy." Certainly other scenes in Act 2 show their love maturing -- one of the show's highlights is "My Cup Runneth Over," a sweetly staged ballad. And the final scene, with the aged couple leaving a bedroom full of memories, reveals that they have no regrets about their choice to stay together.

This is, after all, a musical comedy, so all will be right in the end. Reckamp and Flack complement each other as singers and dancers, and they're nicely accompanied by pianist Justine Liu. I Do! I Do! is a romantic evening of theater, fueled by a variety of sparkling Jones/Schmidt tunes. Your Valentine's-gift dilemma is solved.