Once upon a time, and not too many years ago at that, theatergoers couldn’t escape the musical “I Do! I Do!” by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. Budget-conscious producers and dinner theater operators alike were attracted to it because of its two-person, single-set script. But theatergoers, especially longtime married couples, flocked to it because the creators reached out and spoke to them about a subject they knew intimately well. In other words, it sold like the proverbial hotcakes. But that was mostly in the 1970s and ’80s, and as I drove to Holland to attend the opening night performance of “I Do! I Do!” at Hope Summer Repertory Theatre’s Knickerbocker Theatre, I wondered how an audience in 2010 would respond to an old-fashioned musical about the ups and downs of married life first produced on Broadway in 1966.
Well, the mostly middle-aged and senior audience loved it – if the rousing standing ovation and comments I overheard at intermission and after the performance were any indication. And for good reason: It’s one heck of an entertaining production!
The story begins on the wedding day of Michael and Agnes Snow in 1895 and follows their relationship throughout the subsequent half century. Like all couples, they have their highs and lows – from the births of their two children to their eventual marriages, and from an infidelity to the empty nest syndrome. And all of the action is centered in one room: their bedroom.
In most productions I’ve seen of “I Do! I Do!” over the years – and there have been many – the director has populated his production with young actors to play the Snows. And that’s exactly what HSRT director John Tammi did with his production of “I Do! I Do!” – when he first staged it 20 years ago, that is. But for this anniversary production he’s working with two seasoned veterans – who just so happen to be the same actors he worked with the first time, David Colacci and Susan Ericksen.
But that’s not all. Colacci and Ericksen were newlyweds at the time – he was 39 and she was 30 – and they bring to their roles a poignancy and understanding that only 20 years of married life together can shape.
Both are accomplished veterans of the stage, but it’s the little things that embellish their performances – such as a knowing smile here, or a gentle touch there. Such moments are especially noticeable throughout the second act, however, which focuses on the Snows as they reach middle age and beyond. The first song after intermission, “Where are the Snows,” finds the couple in bed on New Year’s Eve reflecting on their lives, which then glides into the reprise of “My Cup Runneth Over.” Their bond throughout these numbers (and in the finale, “This House”) is never stronger, which creates a palpable sense of love between the characters – despite the many bumps along the way.
Individual numbers also allow each actor to shine.
Colacci, who also serves at HSRT’s artistic director, especially excels as a pompous Michael tries to excuse his infidelity in the song “A Well Known Fact.” Later, he generates plenty of laughs while dressing for his daughter’s wedding and sings “My Daughter is Marrying an Idiot.” (“Don’t they all?” I overheard someone whisper.)
Ericksen, the stronger singer of the two, lets loose with the saucy “Flaming Agnes,” in which she fantasizes her potential life as a divorcee. Later, she shows her range with the touching search for meaning in her now-empty nest, “What is a Woman?”
Accompaniment by music director Fred Tessler and his orchestra is excellent, as is the set design by Kristin Ellert.
Production problems were few on opening night – which included the occasional dark spot in which Colacci found himself. (Whether that’s a design problem or an errant actor, I’m not sure.) And this production “suffers” from a problem pretty much every production of “I Do! I Do!” experiences – but in the opposite. Whereas younger actors are often not totally believable or convincing as the Snows age, I couldn’t help chuckle early in the first act when a virginal Agnes and a possibly virginal Michael – played by obviously middle-aged actors, remember – nervously fumble and delay the consummation of their wedding night. It certainly didn’t ring true – but they surely made up for it as the otherwise enjoyable evening progressed!
‘I Do! I Do!’
Hope Summer Repertory Theatre at Knickerbocker Theatre, 86 E. 8th St., Holland. Plays in rotating repertory through Aug. 10. $10-$26. 616-395-7890. http://www.hope.edu/hsrt