It's easy to see why East West, known for its Stephen Sondheim revivals, paired his one-act comprising songs that were cut from various shows, with Jason Robert Brown's second major work. Both are virtually dialogue-free two-handers about relationships gone wrong. But they contrast sharply in music and lyric styles. These remain lesser works by two of the most creative artists in the genre, but East West does the most with them, which is enough to make them entertaining. Directors Jules Aaron (Marry Me a Little) and Jon Lawrence Rivera (The Last Five Years) add layers to the one-dimensional works, and four strong performers amplify the best of the songs.
Marry Me A Little, created by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene, has no true story line, other than a Man and a Woman (Mike Dalager and Jennifer Hubilla) sharing the same stage space (a spacious and functional set by John H. Binkley), while in reality each is living in different Manhattan apartments in the same building. Except for a couple of duets, which occur in fantasies, Dalager and Hubilla take turns singing love songs originally intended for other shows, including Follies, Company, and A Little Night Music. Aaron's deft blocking provides a sense of unity between the characters. Dalager's charisma and Hubilla's strong soprano voice are suited for Sondheim's tricky lyrics and complex melodies.
The Last Five Years remains better in concept than execution. Jamie (Michael K. Lee) recounts a relationship from beginning to end, while Cathy (Jennifer Paz) tells the same story, only backward. Brown's songs, influenced by gospel and jazz, are—like his lyrics—catchy and simple, if not memorable. But it would be hard to beat this cast, in particular Paz, who has one of the best voices in musical theater. She exudes raw emotion, conveying Cathy's deep heartache in the opener, "Still Hurting," which plays well juxtaposed to Lee's highly comical rendition of the next number, "Shiksa Goddess."
Wonderful performances and staging of average material may not be ideal, but it's worthwhile.
Presented by East West Players at the David Henry Hwang Theatre, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A.
May 13–June 21. Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.
(213) 625-7000, ext.12 or