I Do! I Do!

Performed (and well, by David Garrison and Karen Ziemba, in roles created by Robert Preston and Mary Martin) in New York for the first time in 30 years, "I Do! I Do!" features a sweet score by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt that, for all its sentimentality, stops short of cloying (especially in this production's piano-only accompaniment). If none of the songs is truly first-rate, neither do any fall below a modest level of agreeable good humor.

With:
Cast: David Garrison (Michael), Karen Ziemba (Agnes). In television they call it counter-programming. Playing yin to such cutting-edge yangs as "Rent" (or even "Victor/Victoria," for that matter), the reappearance of the unapologetically old-fashioned "I Do! I Do!" will come as a welcome song from the past for those who like their musicals pleasant, irony-free and more than a tad awww-inspiring.

Performed (and well, by David Garrison and Karen Ziemba, in roles created by Robert Preston and Mary Martin) in New York for the first time in 30 years, “I Do! I Do!” features a sweet score by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt that, for all its sentimentality, stops short of cloying (especially in this production’s piano-only accompaniment). If none of the songs is truly first-rate, neither do any fall below a modest level of agreeable good humor.

While the music hasn’t wrinkled, Jones’ book could use a chemical peel. Based on Jan de Hartog’s play “The Fourposter,””I Do! I Do!” follows the ups and downs of a 50-year marriage (beginning in 1898), with nary a cliche unused. Sung in the couple’s bedroom, each song more or less pushes the marriage one phase forward. In seamless succession, wedding-night jitters give way to labor-pain slapstick, temporary infidelity and father-of-the-bride angst, all leading up to a Golden Anniversary ending. Even in 1966, a legion of sitcom hacks and B-movie screenwriters could have sued Jones for theft, and three decades have only added to the mountain of evidence.

Fortunately, the musical’s appeal rests with its two characters. As written and played, Michael and Agnes are a witty, intelligent Everycouple, likably imperfect. Since the duo is onstage during this entire two-hour-plus production — the marriage could certainly survive some trimming — the actors need to know their stuff. Garrison and especially Ziemba are fine singers, and it’s doubly nice to hear their strong voices fill the theater without amplification. They handle the mostly comic acting just as easily, and Will Mackenzie’s breezy direction suits the material (even if a tighter hand might have provided the needed streamlining: Is an act-two piano overture really necessary?).

Ed Wittstein’s bedroom set is airy, Suzy Benzinger’s costumes attractive (with one or two comic exceptions), and other tech credits are equally polished. “I Do! I Do!” couldn’t ask for a better 30th anniversary gift than this production.

I Do! I Do!

Production: I Do! I Do! (Lamb's Theater, New York City; 349 seats, $ 45 top) An Arthur Cantor presentation of a musical in two acts, with book and lyrics by Tom Jones, music by Harvey Schmidt, based on the play "The Fourposter" by Jan de Hartog. Directed by Will Mackenzie,

Crew: Choreographed by Janet Watson, musical direction by Tim Stella. Set, Ed Wittstein; costumes, Suzy Benzinger; lighting, Mary Jo Dondlinger; production stage manager, Ira Mont; company manager, Susan Guszynski. Opened March 28, 1996; reviewed March 27. Running time: 2 hours, 25 min.

With: Cast: David Garrison (Michael), Karen Ziemba (Agnes). In television they call it counter-programming. Playing yin to such cutting-edge yangs as "Rent" (or even "Victor/Victoria," for that matter), the reappearance of the unapologetically old-fashioned "I Do! I Do!" will come as a welcome song from the past for those who like their musicals pleasant, irony-free and more than a tad awww-inspiring.

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