Book & Lyrics by Tom Jones
Music by Harvey Schmidt
adapted from the play The Fourposter, by Jan de Hartog

INFO:

Opened at the 46th Street Theatre   December 5, 1966   560 performances
Original Director: Gower Champion
Original Choreographer: Gower Champion
Original Producer: David Merrick
Original Leads: Agnes: Mary Martin    Michael: Robert Preston
Cast Size: Male:1    Female: 1    Ensemble: 0     Total Cast Size: 2
Orchestra: There are four sizes available, apparently, called “small”, “medium”, “large” and “piano only. This show does work with piano only, and everything else make it warmer and richer.
Published Script: None
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: The original Broadway with those two wonderful stars!
Film: Hal Linden and Lee Remick did a televised version in 1982.
Other shows by the authors: The Fantasticks, Celebration, 110 In The Shade, Philimon
Awards: The first production was nominated for 7 Tonys, but only Preston won, for Best Actor in a Musical.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

It’s a one set (a bedroom), two actor show that can be done with piano accompaniment, written by the same men who wrote The Fantasticks, the longest running musical ever. You would think that every company would do it, but that isn’t the case, and it shouldn’t be.

This is the perfect show for a theater with no flies and not much for wings, and a small stage. It is perfect if your budget is tight and you want to do a lovely, fun musical. It is perfect if (and ONLY if) you have an actor and actress who can pull off these two titanic roles, while remaining charming and likeable, and it is a remarkable showcase for such performers. It is perfect if your company is financially overextended, and you need an inexpensive, attractive musical to produce. (Could be promoted as “by the authors of America’s longest-running musical, The Fantasticks.) And it is an ideal show to take on tour, given how simple it is to move.

Dinner theaters used to do this show all the time, as did Little Theaters and some stock and semi-pro companies. It might still work well for such groups.

Be Warned:

Okay, there’s only two roles and no ensemble. So right away, we know that these two performers are going to need to be magnificent. What’s more, they must play a broad age range, from young married couple to old married couple. And they’re going to each do a ton of singing.

Who has played these roles? Start with two superstars, Preston and Martin. Carol Burnett and Rock Hudson did the show together! Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke were going to do a film when the money ran out. Producers doing large professional; productions know that they will spend their money not on sets or orchestras for this show, but on the two stars.

And if you haven’t two wonderful performers who can each carry an entire evening as actor/singer/a little bit of a dancer? This isn’t your show.

There is more. If you have a company with lots of actors in it fighting for a chance to be on stage, or a drama department that fits that description, then this show will be a very poor choice indeed. If you have a large stage, a large theater, this show will not fill that space as well as most other shows. This is a musical best placed in reasonably intimate surroundings. The closer the audience can be to the actors, the better. It did play Broadway, in a theater (now the Richard Rodgers Theater) with over 1,300 seats, which is certainly on the large side for Broadway houses. In fact, big shows like Guys & Dolls, Damn Yankees, How To Succeed In Business, and 1776 played that same theater, so it can be done in a reasonably large house. That production filled up the seats on the basis of star power, though. And the show itself does work best in a smaller arena, as Little Theaters and Dinner Theaters discovered throughout the 70s and 80s, when this show was often produced. (I did it in the late 70s.)

Also, the show’s overall feel may be a little old-fashioned for a hip audience, which might make it a poor choice for audiences longing for more aggressive, modern fare. This is a relatively gentle show, though there are plenty of big laughs in it at the expense of the married couple that grow old before our eyes. This is a fine, lovely entertainment. But there are theaters and groups that should not attempt it.

And by the way, if you’re targeting or cater to younger audiences, this is not the right show. The pace, musical style and characters will not much appeal to that croed.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: On an almost empty stage, Michael and Agnes (called “He” and “She”) prepare to marry. (All The Dearly Beloved”), they take their positions (“Together Forever”), he removes her veil and kisses her, and they walk together “down the aisle.” (“I Do! I Do!”) He carries her over the threshold, and a bed appears (which is pretty much it for a set). He is overly solicitous, they are both young and awkward. They approach each other for the wedding night with unease, dressing separately for bed though she forgets to remove her veil. He turns to look away as she slips from her robe and into the bed. They lie there, pretty much staring at ceiling. (“Good Night”) She admits she’s a virgin. He almost admits the same. Finally, after a lot of hemming and hawing, he removes her veil, they kiss, lights fade.

In a spotlight, Michael celebrates his wedding night. (“I Love My Wife”) he falls asleep, but she has become pregnant, as we discover when she turns sideways. (“Something Has Happened”) A dinner bell sounds. He complains that he’s trying to write, but that he’s in pain. And the pain keeps moving from his head to his back. His pains are sympathetic labor pains, and that really upsets her as she thinks he’s pretending. Her pregnancy is killing him. Their love grows. (“My Cup Runneth Over”)

They debate going to the doctor, and finally have no choice. The baby is born, and life impinges, as they must care for one, then two babies, and make a living. (“Love Isn’t Everything”) He demands she clean the place up, as he has writing to do. He’s becoming a bit of a pig. Annoyed, she calls his work “dull.” He prepares to go to a party, and she doesn’t really want to go, but as he’s the guest of honor, he insists. She points out that he’s changed. They have both changed, and so they decide to make a list of each other’s irritating habits, to correct them, because “Nobody’s Perfect.” This list (very funny and personal) becomes a mutual attack, ending with a declaration that nobody’s perfect, especially the other. They head off to the party stiffly.

Returning, she dumps her ermine and purse angrily. He enters the bedroom just to get his pajamas, and starts to leave. They fight, and he is treating her like a pompous ass. The argument leads to the truth – he’s found another woman. She’s 39, now. He admits he loves the other woman. He’s “famous,” and she must learn to share him. Besides, “It’s A Well-Known Fact” that men get more attractive as they age, while women deteriorate. He exits like some sort of movie star with a tryst. She is furious, and dragging out an outrageous hat, plans to go out on the town and show him what it is to trifle with “Flaming Agnes”. He catches her before she leaves, and tells her he’s planning to leave her. (“The Honeymoon Is Over”) They continue to fight, but it all ends with them embracing, and him carrying her to the bed as lights fade.

ACT TWO: It’s New Year’s Eve, and they realize they are aging. (“Where Are The Snows”) They dance together, a happily if resignedly married couple again. Then, He finds a bottle of Bourbon in his son’s room, ion a drawer. (He points out at such times that the boy is “HER son.”) She’s sure if it was their daughter who transgressed, Michael would forgive the girl. He is angered at the implication he has an Oedipus complex. He opens the bottle and discovers it’s full not with Bourbon, but with cod liver oil. She realizes their son never took the oil as medicine when he’d been given it, but instead stored it in this bottle. They determine to let the boy have it, but when he enters downstairs, they just can’t bring themselves to do it. But “When The Kids Get Married”, then they will be free. (This is a jubilant, fun number where he dreams of playing a sax, her a violin, and they do, badly.)

Time passes, and Michael bemoans, as “The Father Of The Bride”, that his daughter is marrying an idiot. And he longs to turn time back. The house is now empty of children, and Agnes wonders what she’s supposed to do with her life now. (“What Is A Woman?”) she tells Michael she’s planning to go away, to discover a meaning to her life. She tells him, she doesn’t think she loves him, anymore. And a young man wrote her poems that she liked… He reads one, it’s horrible. She starts to laugh. He points out that he needs her, he can’t even write anymore without her. That’s what she needed to hear. (“Someone Needs Me”)

They age. They pack up the house. It’s too big for two older people to live in. (“Roll Up The Ribbons”) They bid a fond farewell to “This House” where they’ve lived their lives, and exit, turning off the lights and closing the door.

THE SONGS:

“All The Dearly Beloved”, “Together Forever”, “I Do! I Do!”, “Good Night”, “I Love My Wife”, “Something Has Happened”, “My Cup Runneth Over”, “Love Isn’t Everything”, “Nobody’s Perfect”, “A Well Known Fact”, “Flaming Agnes”, “The Honeymoon Is Over”, “Where Are The Snows”, “When The Kids Get Married”, “The Father Of The Bride”, “What Is A Woman”, “”Someone Needs Me”, “Roll Up The Ribbons”, “This House”

Hits include “My Cup Runneth Over” “What Is A Woman” had some success, and “Flaming Agnes” stops the show.

MY OPINIONS:

As always, you are free to skip or ignore my opinions and rating.  But if you do, things don’t go well, and you come back later and try to pin the blame on me – oh, no you don’t, you don’t.

This is a lovely, gentle, fairly simple show. The script is lean, with clever dialogue that sweeps us quickly through the couple’s lives. The songs are traditional is structure, if occasionally long, but they all entertain. The music probably occupies a majority of the running time, all for the best with this show.

Look, there are very few shows as inexpensive and technically simple as this one. If you have the right two actors, you’ve completed 3/4ths of your work mounting a production of I Do! I Do! Audiences have always responded with warmth, though I do fear that the show may creak a bit with age, now. The couple is definitely of the last century, the early part of it. They have servants and wear hats. It would be a hard show to modernize, because even the lyrics tend to reflect a sense of the period. You would probably need to keep this mid 1890s – mid 1940s, and treat it overtly as a period piece.

This is a terrific little show that is in serious danger of going extinct as social sensibilities change. And yet, people still marry, suffer through the wedding night, have kids, struggle with marriage, have affairs, reconcile, and age. These are all a part of the human experience, and this show is a somewhat simplistic comic book version of that kind of life. It’s strength, as is true of The Fantasticks, is in its simplicity, its warmth, its cleverness, and in two star performances. Rely on these elements and develop a common bond with an audience who is living and sharing the experiences Michael and Agnes go through, and an audience should be touched and pleased.

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The music is actually pretty simple and straight-forward, with a lot of slightly jazzed-up pastiche numbers as the all-American couple age through the decades from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. Schmidt does compose some lovely, fun melodies that can be a little bit of a workout for a pianist, but the orchestra does not have anything to do that will tire the players out. Just make sure your pianist and percussionists are skilled.

Your two performers, however simple the songs may be overall, have a great deal of singing to do. These roles are each as large as any in the Musical Theater repertoire.

Agnes – Well, Mary Martin, right? One of the most beautiful, famed voices in the history of Broadway. She should be an alto with some soprano notes and a good belt. And her voice should be inexhaustible. Must be at home with theatrical styles, up beats and ballads, and harmonize reasonably well. The audience will need to care about her, and understand why a man would choose to be with her for a lifetime, and her voice is a part of that. Same thing goes for the man in reverse.

Michael – This role has been played by Preston, who is famed for speak-singing roles like Harold Hill in Music Man. No one used a lyric better than Preston, but he had a small if charming range, with a rolling Baritone. It’s also been sung by more legit baritone voices. I think that, since we need to listen to these two voices and none other for two hours, it’s best if the voices blend well, are pleasant, unstrained, professional, and in the service of some mighty fine comic acting.

You are casting for acting first, singing next. But both must be there in totality. Ability to do some dance is certainly a plus! And they will need to play instruments for a few moments – he, the sax, she the violin! Those briefly-displayed skills can be taught so long as you have someone around who actually does play those instruments to help with the 16-odd bars needed.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

You can’t let this show ever get to be about dance, it’s not a dance show, even though Gower Champion directed it, and he was a famed dancer and choreographer. There are, however, cute novelty or “specialty” numbers, like a bare-footed soft shoe number, which can be charming and even delightful if performed with ease and expertise. Movement should be simple, emanate from the characters and their emotional state as well as the situation, and add to the performances rather than dominate them.

You’re going to end up relying on older types of dance, from ballroom to music hall to soft shoe. Make sure your choreographer is comfortable with this approach.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Both roles provide enormous challenges. Both characters age from late teens to their elderly years. Both have a thousand lines or more. Both sing a dozen songs or so. Both have to do some dancing, sometimes together.

The show looks and feels simple, and it is. But do not underestimate the gargantuan challenge to the two actors! Alone on stage for nearly two hours, playing the age ranges demanded, signing through an entire score together requires the absolute best talent you can get your hands on. If you have the talent on board to begin with, that’s a reason to do this show. If you do not, I’d sure think twice.

How old should your actors actually be? Well, it’s better if they are mature and playing kids, rather than kids playing old (as I did when I did the show in my late teens…). Usually actors in their 30s-40s, at the peak of their power and energy, are called on for this show.

SETS:

The bed is really the third character, so to speak, in the story. The bedroom is the only set, and it is almost entirely a fourposter bed. They share a wedding night, make children, fight and make up in that bed. It is lived in, for decades. It, too, ought to age somehow. That could be done to comic effect by the way. A broken side slat after the wedding night, pasted loosely together for the rest of their time together, a symbol of their lives.

COSTUMES:

This is a period piece. Both characters pass through the centuries, and it’s their clothing that tells us when we are as much as the actors themselves. They also become wealthy, and that changes the sort of clothes they have as they age. As they get older older, comfort might be more important than style, certainly more important than when Michael is wooing a woman to have an affair with, when he might dress to the nines, the “famous writer.”

So the clothes reflect the passing time period, the character’s financial state, the character’s inner life and conditions, and their aging body’s needs.

This is also a musical comedy. That means your two actors must be able to sing and dance easily in your clothes. That is especially important as there are only two actors. There are no breaks for them to catch their breath, though the authors have carefully shaped the show to allow rest after a solo or tough duet. Your costumes must help them not just look the parts, but also survive the parts.

And their evolving night clothes could be quite funny.

Start early, as soon as you have sizes. Make your actors look attractive, please, we have to look at them a lot! Thrift stores may help a bit, but costume shops will be a better bet for this show. You may need to build some of her costumes, especially her wild “Flaming Agnes” hat. They will need gloves, hats, that sort of thing.

And she’ll need a wedding dress…

PROPS:

A bottle of Bourbon, I’m sure you can work that one out. A wedding veil. His manuscripts. The kid’s toys and games. Evolving toys and games showing the kids aging as well. A sax, a violin, and they must work, sort of. Other assorted, simple props.

LIGHTING:

There’s not a lot of variation to look at up there, so the lighting had better be creative, evocative, and help isolate what we do want to see. The numbers move through moods, and you will need to help these along. I would resist the use of a follow spot except at the most passionate or big, “theatrical” numbers. General lighting with a mood, with an attitude, will be useful.

And know who is important and when. For instance, when Michael tells Agnes that he’s leaving her for another woman, she’s important and should be the focus of the picture we see. You can reverse this in Act Two when she lets him know she’s fallen for a poet.

MAKE-UP:

Refrain from any temptation to demonstrate age through make-up, though a wig or two growing whiter may work, if extremely well-done. Just keep the actors attractive, with cleanly visible features, and let them, do the heavy lifting.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Music Director, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, Agnes, Michael

MY THOUGHTS:

As I mentioned, I do fear for the future of this sweet, worthy show. But I would think that established musical theater performers who have reached a mature age might find this one rewarding indeed, and could be induced to try it out. I do not believe it is Broadway fare, today, it’s just too small. But Off-Broadway, maybe. Small regional theaters, maybe.

Your cast and director should understand that most of your laughs and applause will be gentle, even grateful, but not loud or effusive. It isn’t that kind of show. There are few shows like it, and there never were very many. It may survive simply because of its affordability and ease of production. But once exposed to it, talent and audiences alike won’t be disappointed.