The 1981 revue “Marry Me A Little” is a trousseau of trunk songs, tunes written and shelved by Stephen Sondheim from various early career projects. As presented by Theatre Rhinoceros, it is now also a bit of a locally relevant social commentary.
Director John Fisher obtained permission to recast the heterosexually staged original as a statement on marriage equality. His proposal, now on display at the Eureka Theatre, is impassioned but not completely successful as either a political statement about Proposition 8 or as a piece of musical theater.
There’s a reason why some of these songs got the ax in their initial lives as parts of the scores to “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music” and other shows. The focus of the production changed, it was ill-suited to the performer at hand or, perhaps, it was just deemed to be not very good. Some of those reasons still stand.
The title tune was one of three considered for the spot in “Company,” now occupied by the anthem “Being Alive.” It is sung here by Bill Fahrner as a companion to Caleb Draper’s “Happily Ever After” — both equivocations on the dubious joys of commitment and two of the better numbers in the show.
Fahrner is a strong singer and he serves up Sondheim’s internal rhymes and tricky rhythms extremely well. Draper is less polished vocally but pairs well with Fahrner, as both must convey the arc of a romance through the dialogue-free concert of disconnected songs.
Neither gent is a dancer, and inelegant choreography by Lia Metz adds nothing but awkwardness to the proceedings, though Fahrner manages to infuse a sort of geeky out-of-body charm to his gyrations.
The production seems to shuffle eras indiscriminately as the design team mixes last-century accoutrements like color-coded hankies, brick-like mobile phones and pagers, with current millennium touches like “FCUK” underwear and Prop. 8 newsreel footage.
As an XY chromosome romance, the show is not overly surprising. Gay couples are subject to the same delirious romantic delusions, insecurities, petty jealousies and codependent angst as their heterosexual counterparts. That’s as it should be.
What does resonate in this context are couplets of lyrics such as “So Many People” from 1951’s “Saturday Night” and other songs that play as if they were written for this specific meaning and presentation. Another surprise in this Bay Area premiere is the show’s conclusion, different from that implied by familiarity with only the off-Broadway cast recording.
Presented by Theatre Rhinoceros
Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today and Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $15 to $35
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.therhino.org