Play strikes musical chord for wedded couples

PLAY REVIEW /// ‘I Do! I Do!’

FOR BETTER AND WORSE—Adam Womack is Michael and Lauren Rachel plays Agnes in “I Do! I Do!” at Camarillo Skyway Playhouse. Courtesy of Dean Johnson

FOR BETTER AND WORSE—Adam Womack is Michael and Lauren Rachel plays Agnes in “I Do! I Do!” at Camarillo Skyway Playhouse. Courtesy of Dean Johnson

Before the arrival of playwright Tom Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt, Broadway musicals featured characters that were larger than life, historically significant or extraordinary in one way or another. With the success of Jones and Schmidt’s “The Fantasticks,” Broadway started looking inward to more average, ordinary people.

The pair’s 1966 musical “I Do! I Do!” examines 50 years in the life of a married couple, beginning just after their wedding and ending on the day the couple, now grandparents, move out of their house to a smaller apartment.

The show is being staged now through Nov. 12 at the Camarillo Skyway Playhouse, starring Lauren Rachel as Agnes and Adam Womack as Michael.

The time frame for “I Do! I Do!” is described as having occurred between 1895 and 1945, but the incidents in the story are timeless. It’s the one show in which just about any audience member can identify with the characters: newlyweds wondering what to look forward to, settled couples who see commonalities with their own lives or older couples nostalgically looking back at their own marriages.

Based on the Jan de Hartog play “The Fourposter,” the original production of “I Do! I Do!” starred Robert Preston and Mary Martin, two Broadway eminences who could easily carry a show without supporting characters.

In Skyway’s production, Rachel and Womack are talented enough to do the same, giving Jones and Schmidt’s loving, sensitive work all the humor and poignancy intended. The actors de- liver two splendid performances.

The show takes place entirely in Agnes and Michael’s bedroom. In the scenes, they run the gamut of life’s experiences: the glow and awkwardness of their wedding night, which eventually wears off as they begin recognizing each other’s annoying habits; a turbulent time when their marriage is threatened after Michael admits seeing another woman; and their realization of the passage of time while raising their family.

Rachel and Womack make an engaging, attractive couple. Rachel’s birdlike voice brings to mind jazz thrush Mildred Bailey, while Womack’s bombastic, pompous tone and burly presence is reminiscent of a young Orson Welles.

The musical highlight of the show is the pair’s Act 1 love song “My Cup Runneth Over,” which became the show’s only pop hit, but “I Do! I Do!” is filled with other gems, including “Flaming Agnes,” in which a spurned and neglected Agnes fantasizes about being a single, free-spirited divorcee, and “When the Kids Get Married,” as Michael and Agnes look forward to a new life of freedom after their two children leave the nest.

The only song that doesn’t wear well is “A Well Known Fact,” Michael’s chauvinistic paean to male superiority. In the 1960s, many male audience members (and some females as well) may have agreed with its stone-age assumptions, but today it makes audiences resent Michael more than they should.

Although the characters age 50 years during the show, the actors do not change their physical appearance until the last scene, and Rachel and Womack’s onstage transformation to senior citizens is remarkable in its simplicity.

This most affecting scene puts forth the notion that mothers who see their children leave to start their own lives feel hopeless and useless. But Michael convinces Agnes not to view herself as an individual with no purpose but as a sturdy branch of the family tree they have built, ending the musical on a sweetly positive note.

Dean Johnson directs the show with the sensitivity it deserves while also designing the set, lighting and sound. Lauren Rachel provided the choreography for her dances with Womack.

“I Do! I Do!” plays through Nov. 12 at the Camarillo Skyway Playhouse, 330 Skyway Drive.

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