Toward the end of the 70-minute Stephen Sondheim musical revue “Marry Me a Little,” now at TheatreWorks, Sharon Rietkerk sings the title song with a deep yearning: “I’m ready now!” she cries, and you believe her.
In a production that, under Robert Kelley’s direction, tends toward feel good, that song, so stirringly performed, is a cathartic high point.
And there are plenty of captivating moments along the way.
“Marry Me,” which first premiered in 1980 Off-Off Broadway, is a composite of mostly obscure Sondheim songs from other musicals (the title song is from “Company”), some of which were never included in the shows for which they were originally written. In other cases the shows themselves never materialized.
Playwright Craig Lucas (“Prelude to a Kiss,” etc.) and his partner, Norman René, crafted this lyrical pastiche in which two lonely young people, on different floors in the same New York apartment building (but cleverly staged to take place in one apartment), dream and fantasize as they do ordinary things like prepare a solitary meal, change clothes and tidy up.
Over the years, different productions of the musical have taken different approaches. In some, the two characters, “Him” and “Her,” have been played as “Him” and “Him,” and so on.
Kelley has made this production his own by, among other things, setting it in San Francisco, which nevertheless doesn’t feel quite right — despite a lovely backdrop (by scenic designer Bruce McLeod) of Victorian rooftops and the Transamerica Pyramid, and an elegant, very San Francisco street facade of the apartment building — especially with lyrics that refer to the “El,” “New Rochelle,” the Ritz, the uptown/downtown divide and so forth.
While the versatile Rietkerk is a beguiling Her with a sharp comic edge and a playful, graceful looseness (her “Can That Boy Foxtrot,” written for “Follies,” is a special delight), A.J. Shively as a lanky, guitar-strumming Him is sweet-voiced but bland by comparison, lacking Rietkerk’s depth and vulnerability.
I’d have liked Kelley to allow the show’s melancholy tones — so beautifully realized, for example, in Rietkerk’s solo “The Girls of Summer” (from the musical of the same name) — to wash over the audience more thoroughly, but instead he hints at a happy ending in several ways.
But that’s a small complaint in a basically soulful show with such wonderfully complex melodies and witty, even profound, lyrics by our greatest living composer of musicals. Excellent music director William Liberatore plays the onstage piano.
Marry Me a Little
Presented by TheatreWorks
Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes June 29
Tickets: $19 to $73