On Theater: Fall in love with 'I Do!'

It's becoming a banner year for musical theater creators Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. First, their signature show "The Fantasticks" was "magically" revived at South Coast Repertory, and now the Laguna Playhouse is turning its spotlight, quite beautifully, on "I Do! I Do!"

This two-character exercise, which follows the often-rocky course of a 50-year marriage beginning in 1906, was a hit for Mary Martin and Robert Preston in 1966 and it's still in good hands — those of Davis Gaines and Vicki Lewis — in the Laguna version.

Director Alan Souza keeps the show animated — the actors flourish on the huge playhouse stage — and Gaines and Lewis shine under the musical direction of Helen Gregory. It's a marriage made in musical theater heaven.

Gaines, who's accustomed to playing more menacing roles (he's logged more than 2,000 performances as "The Phantom of the Opera"), is particularly engaging as a writer of romance novels whose outsized ego nearly derails his marriage. This personality flaw is magnified to great effect in his self-congratulatory solo, "It's a Well Known Fact."

Immediately following, as a sort of musical one-upsmanship, is Lewis' breakout number, "Flaming Agnes," in which the scarlet-tressed actress revels at the prospect of blossoming into a femme fatale. It's a welcome surge into the forefront for Lewis, whose earlier numbers veer toward a more genteel interpretation.

Together, they are a visual and vocal treat, particularly when combined for the song that became a huge hit in the 1960s — "My Cup Runneth Over." It's a second-act antidote to the first act's confrontational "Nobody's Perfect", when each presents a list of the other's faults — her list being infinitely longer — and the climactic verbal joust, "The Honeymoon Is Over," which rings down the first-act curtain with a bang.

Gaines revels in his feigned superiority, acquired after a nervously tentative opening segment immediately following the wedding. His assumption of authority during the early years of the marriage is effectively presented, though he's always ripe for a swift descent at the hands of his wily spouse.

Lewis, conversely, elects to puncture her husband's ballooning ego with more subtle strokes. She is especially winning as she deflects his outbursts with a sardonic word or gesture, bringing the relationship back to a more level playing field. Her late-in-the-show solo "What Is a Woman?" is most endearing since it seeks out the meaning of life and marriage.

As they grow older, welcoming the new year with little fanfare, both actors settle into a comfortably mature relationship. Their physical transformation for their final scene — accomplished onstage in full audience view — is particularly striking.

Set designer Jim Prodger's bedroom backdrop is well-appointed, conveying a modicum of old-timey comfort (the action does, after all, commence in the early 20th century). Julie Keen's costumes are well chosen for the particular period of each segment.

The Laguna Playhouse may be a difficult venue to approach during the annual Festival of Arts, but off-site parking and a free shuttle bus will simplify matters considerably. This sparkling revival will be well worth the effort.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "I Do! I Do!"

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays until Aug. 11; check website for some additional performances

Cost: $40 to $70

Information: (949) 497-2787 or http://www.lagunaplayhouse.com

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