REVIEW: I DO! I DO! at the Arvada Center
by Mona Lott
Broadway just called “places” again after having closed during the last year and a half for Covid and many local and reginal theaters are also coming out of pandemic hibernation. That’s great news for theater lovers and fans of one of Colorado’s most prestigious companies, The Arvada Center as they kick off their new season with I Do, I Do.
I Do, I Do having long been a fiscally reliable stalwart at dinner and community theaters, due to its low production costs, (only 2 actors, one minimal set and simple costumes) almost seems an odd choice for Arvada Center to kick off their post Covid season. Arvada Center, known for big shows, big casts and a big budget seem to have made the fiscally responsible choice as well, adding I Do, I Do to this post Covid season.
Arvada Center President and CEO, Philip C. Snead alludes to the loss of millions of dollars in revenue from the pandemic shutdown but he also points out that the show was the smart choice as they could not predict what the CDC standards would be and crowded spaces with big casts did not seem feasible when social distancing.
Unfortunately, that seems to be where most of the smart choices ended. Director, Rod A. Landsberry, now in his 29th year with The Arvada Center, smartly chose to go with real life married couples to portray the man and wife in I Do, I Do. He found not only one but two married couples to bring Michael and Agnes to life on alternate nights. On the evening that I attended the show, Arvada Center newcomers John Donovan Wilson and Twyla Wilson took to the stage while Marco and Adriane Leigh Robinson, presumably prepared for another evening.
The musical is based on “The Fourposter” play by Jan de Hartog. The writing team of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, better known for, “The Fantasticks” and “110 in the Shade adapted Hartog’s work premiering I Do, I Do in 1967. Produced by David Merrick, directed and choreographed by Gower Champion and starring Robert Preston and Mary Martin, the show was nominated for seven Tony awards, winning only one for Preston’s performance as Michael.
The Arvada Center’s production starts with both performers looking into mirrors across the stage from each other as they prepare for their wedding day. We get to watch their marriage progress through arguments, affairs, pregnancy, parenthood and what seems to be, very little joy. Landsberry seems to have used a heavy hand directing against the comedy and instead having the Wilson’s play everything rather flat. There seems to be no joy in Michael and Agnes’ marriage right from the start, even an affair that Michael confesses to later in the show does little in ruffling any feathers.
Any chemistry this real life married couples might have, has been watered down to nervous anxiety and unhappiness. Twyla as Agnes seems ready to flee at any moment and Mr. Wilson never manages to make Michael likable at all. Both of the Wilson’s have fine singing voices, but fail in taking the audience on their fifty year journey or making us believe they survived for five decades.
The comedy is just not there, this couple doesn’t seem to ever have fun, even on their wedding night. The production never takes off and there is nothing at stake for the actors or the audience as this marriage plods along on one very low emotional level until both actors leave the stage for what was a rather long time, returning as Michael and Agnes in old age. This was another choice that pales against the more theatrical moment of having the actors return to their on-stage mirrors and apply old age makeup in view of the audience.
Admittedly the house was more than half empty perhaps due to CDC precautions, and that can affect the energy onstage. The directors choice to remove the interactive parts of the show may also have been a pandemic safety precautions as well. Michael does not pass cigars out in the audience when his son is born and Agnes throws her bouquet upstage instead of into the audience at the wedding. In any case, that lack of intimacy makes investing into the emotional stake of these characters all that more difficult.
The musical spans the years 1895 to 1945 and is full of misogyny and inequality. In our current age of cancel culture, the Me Too movement and gender equality the show just seems irrelevant. This examination of marriage is so dated and cliché that it seems rather tired. Each scene can be found in an I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke or even a Green Acres television episode.
It’s disappointing after seeing Landsberry’s Million Dollar Quartet under the stars a short time ago. His direction and that show was sheer perfection. I’m gonna blame the pandemic for this one, as I totally believe that Landsberry is an exceptional talent, The Wilson’s are destined to create some amazing performances and The Arvada Center will live on to produce even more amazing entertainment.
Go, see the show, you may feel different than I did, and in the very least, you’ll show support for one of Colorado’s best theaters as we celebrate a return to Live Theatre!!!