First Nighter: 'Long Story Short' Sizes Up Marriage Fairly Enough

Nervous-as-a-tomcat-on-a-hot-tin-roof Charles (Bryce Ryness) and in-control-if-slightly-confused Hope (Pearl Sun) have just met perhaps cute when the new musical Long Story Short gets going at 59E59. Although when Charles brings Hope to his new compact home with a queen-sized bed in the middle of the main (only?) room, she mentions she hadn't considered their night together an actual date and then backtracks saying maybe it was.

That's just before she says she's feeling ill and asks to lie down on that prominent bed with its black duvet. As she does, a subsequent marriage and life together unfolds. Precisely what's transpiring could seem a trifle unclear at that point, although the Long Story Short title should clue patrons with any dramatic savvy at all into what's really happening.

Anyway, since their union runs to losing a child and raising another, to economic hardships, to her becoming a psychotherapist and his becoming a successful businessman, to a mixed marriage presented with at least one hard-to-take-back insult hurled, to an eventual divorce and remarriage and to a relatively happy old(er) age reached, you could say the audience watches an entirely recognizable legally joined couple going about their lives.

As it runs its accessible course, Pearl and Charles frequently break into songs that Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, also the librettists, insert. The ditties--arranged by Milburn and conducted behind the action by Vadim Feichtner and five other musicians--are rhythmically, insistently catchy. In the moment there's nothing bland about them.

Yet, after a while, they begin to sound like one long song--or sticking to the spirit of the piece, like one short song long. Moreover, either Milburn, Vigoda or both (the credits indicate they collaborated on the total enterprise) expose themselves as part of the contemporary songwriting school where craft is considered a loose endeavor, where perfect rhymes aren't constantly honored, where "venom" is thought a fair enough rhyme with "defend him" and "papers" a fair enough rhyme with "neighbors".

Ryness and Sun deliver the score with appealing facility, and their acting is extremely strong. Perhaps the most impressive part is how well they depict the characters maturing without falling into stereotyped behaviors. For the subtleties on view, director Kent Nicholson must also be thanked.

Also in for gratitude is set designer David L Arsenault, who has to make one basic bedroom pass for a few residences. (The duvet is black on one side, red on the other, and that helps.) Kirche Leigh Zeile has Sun and Ryness in one basic outfit each, sometimes accessorized, for much of the intermissionless 90-minutes but gets more liberal with the changes as the characters age.

Long Story Short is adapted from David Schulner's play, An Infinite Ache, but you could have fooled me. Had I been asked to guess its origins, I might have said it was adapted from Jan de Hartog's play, The Fourposter, which--isn't it needless to say?--was transformed by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt into the Broadway musical I Do! I Do!

In that Mary Martin-Robert Preston vehicle, a marriage from beginning to end was also covered. Yes, of course, the details are different. One of those details is the prominent Fourposter/I Do! I Do! bed, which is, as promised, a four-poster. The Long Story Short bed is a two-poster, which suggests this update could just as easily have been dubbed The Twoposter or I Do! I Do! I Still Do!

In the event, I feel obligated to say that if you've seen I Do! I Do! and heard memorable songs like "My Cup Runneth Over" and "Flaming Agnes," you might find this iteration redundant. Otherwise, enjoy this tuned-up two-hander look at one marriage over time as if nothing like it has ever been thought of before.