Marry Me a Little, Songs by Stephen Sondheim. Conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene. Directed by Mr. Rene. Anyone who imagined that "Side by Side by Sondheim" exhausted the possibilities of assembling Stephen Sondheim's words and music outside their original context reckoned without Craig Lucas -- or Mr. Sondheim.
In "Marry Me a Little," at the Actors Playhouse, Mr. Lucas and Norman Rene have had the idea of creating a musical continuity out of numbers dropped from earlier Sondheim shows. "Follies," "Company," and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" are among the hits whose discards are now being performed by Mr. Lucas and Suzanne Henry in the little basement theater just south of Sheridan Square.
Adapting a scenic idea from Alan Ayckbourn's "How the Other Half Loves," Mr. Lucas and collaborator-director Rene employ a single setting (a dingy walk-up flat by Jane Thurn) to represent the apartments occupied by a moodily unattached young man (Mr. Lucas) and a forlornly unpartnered young woman (Miss Henry). Though the performers come together for several duets, including a welcome bit of vaudeville comic relief, the characters are almost entirely self-isolated. There, only direct awareness of each other occurs when the girl's hammering as she hangs a picture provokes the man's noisy retaliation from the other side of the wall.
The lyrics are graced with the well-known Sondheim verbal adroitness and wit. The music is sophisticated and sometimes haunting. The prevailing mood is downbeat if not actually minor key. In fact, according to a program note, "Happily Ever After" was dropped from the company because it struck too sour a note to end the show. The present entertainment closes with "It Wasn't Meant to Happen," which just about sums up what "Marry Me a Little" is all about.
Miss Henry, who sings well and clowns engagingly, also brings a needed warmth to the cool dry air of Sondheim antiromance. As the bachelor of the fantasy, Mr. Lucas conveys an attitude which, as its most enthusiastic, might be called ambivalent. The determined sleaziness of the setting adds an unnecessary dreariness to the occasion. But musical director E. Martin Perry's well-tempered piano accompaniments are admirably attuned to this brief excursion into what might otherwise qualify as Sondheim terra incognita. Oreska designed the costumes, and the lighting is by Debra J. Kletter.