Filichia Features: I Do! I Do! -- The Marriage Musical

Filichia Features: I Do! I Do! -- The Marriage Musical

While watching I DO! I DO! at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts in Cincinnati, I thought of an advertising slogan that should be used when promoting the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt classic.

“Marriage -- the way it used to be ... and the ways it still is.”

For since this musical debuted in 1966, much has changed – and much has not – between husbands and wives. While your Playbill will state that “I DO! I DO! covers 50 years of marriage beginning in 1898,” you know that some of your theatergoers won’t bother to read the program. Others will arrive too late to peruse and learn the show’s time frame. They may not assume that Michael and Agnes go from that 1898 wedding night to their golden anniversary in 1948.  And if they judge the couple in contemporary terms, they won’t enjoy it as much.

So set up right from the start that I DO! I DO! is a valentine to days gone by. (“I’ll light the gas lamp,” Michael tells Agnes.) That way, today’s theatergoers from Greatest Generation to Baby Boomers down to teens will be charmed and amused by its innocence.

They’ll giggle when Michael gets ready for bed by donning a long nightshirt and a nightcap. (Yes, this was atime when a nightcap wasn't a drink, but apparel for one’s head.) They’ll sympathize during the scene in which Agnes is about to give birth; to summon the doctor, Michael must fetch him, because it’s simply too early for home telephones.

So what about marriage has stayed the same? That first night, Michael and Agnes discuss which side of the bed each will take. The Cincinnati audience gave knowing nods and gurgled with pleasure. Many husbands and wives learned long ago that the which-side-of-the-bed decision on Night One sets the pattern for the entire marriage.

Women who believe that their husbands are just big babies enjoy the scene in which Michael is “sick.” Agnes, in advanced pregnancy, waits on him not just hand and foot, but two hands and two feet.

Mostly, though, I DO! I DO! reminds us of the unenlightened era in which husbands routinely didn't help around the house. How much better matters are today. What’s more, no husband today would dare say what Michael sings to Agnes: “Men of 40 go to town; women go to pot" – thank the Lord.

The directors at Covedale -- Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll – are well-suited for this show, for they constitute a real-life married couple that recently celebrated a 20th anniversary. And if you suspect that one spouse dragged the other into show business, think again: they met while doing a production of The Nerd.

Cohen and Bryll brought some endearing touches to I DO! I DO! To be sure, many an Agnes has thrown her bouquet into the audience, but Lesley Hitch ad-libbed "You're next!" to the woman who caught it. Rick Kramer had some gifts for the audience, too; once his son was born, he tossed a few cigars into the crowd.

Those were the happy times. But into every marriage, a little rain, cyclone, typhoon and tsunami must fall.  Soon Michael and Agnes are complaining about each other: “You are always late,” he decrees. “You chew in your sleep,” she insists. Eventually they tell each other "Go to hell!" – which, judging from the audience reaction, was an expression many a husband and wife had said to each other on at least one dire occasion.

Cohen and Bryll offered a smart touch at the top of the second act.  Michael and Agnes have now reconciled, and are a little older and wiser. No longer do they feel the need to go out on New Year's Eve just because it's the end of the year. Instead, they've decided to spend a quiet evening at home. So Cohen and Bryll had them in bed already with Michael asleep already -- and chewing in his sleep. Agnes looked out at us and made a "See? What did I tell you?" gesture with both hands. It got a solid laugh.

Those who know I DO! I DO! from the original cast album with Mary Martin and Robert Preston may be surprised at a difference seen here in Covedale. During Act One, they may ask, “Where’s ‘My Cup Runneth Over (with Love)’?" It’s always been the musical's stand-out song, and now it’s not there anymore? Could it be that the directors simply didn't like it and threw it out of the show (and thus violated their contract)?

No. Some time ago, Jones and Schmidt came to the conclusion that both the musical and the song would be better served if it were moved to the second act. This was a smart move, mostly because of the lyric, "In only a moment, we both will be old."

When Michael and Agnes originally sang that in the first act, they seemed too prescient; young people don't think about getting older. Some even blithely believe that it'll never really happen. But even if Young Michael and Young Agnes were the types to admit early on that they'd age, they wouldn't anticipate that it would happen "in only a moment." Only older people who have witnessed how fast time goes by would make such an observation.

A little later, some in the audience laughed at the observation that "when the kids get married, they won't live here anymore." It was initially meant as a joke, in order to prompt theatergoers into laughter: "Of course they won't live with you once they're married!" But in Cincinnati, many parents made sounds that revealed that they’d seen their children marry and suddenly move back home with their new spouses. It’s a sign of the tough economic times.

Michael and Agnes decide late in life to learn to play musical instruments; he attempts the saxophone and she the violin. Martin and Preston made some stabs at playing, but as the original cast album proves, neither he nor she would have been invited to join the New York Philharmonic (or any local amateur orchestra). One assumes that as the long run continued, they probably improved. For the three-weeks that I DO! I DO! is here (which is probably around the same run that your theater will have), the same can’t be expected of Kramer and Hitch. In your production, you might finesse the situation the way that Cohen and Bryll did: have Michael and Agnes hum while mock-playing.

And for all the show’s lace-valentine sentimentality, it does include the seeds of feminism. After too many years of Michael’s taking her for granted, Agnes is as mad as heck and isn't going to take it anymore. Luckily, before she moves out, he straightens out and the two continue their marriage. So there is that little realistic sting near show’s end – although the musical with never be confused with that TV series Bridal to Homicidal.

You can do I DO! I DO! with a full orchestra, as the original 1966 production did, or with two pianos, which the 1996 off-Broadway production used. Covedale opted for the latter, and proved that Jones and Schmidt’s score is one that reduces well.

Another idea: when Michael and Agnes have their biggest battle royale, he tries to keep her from yelling out of embarrassment that "the servants" might hear. Because he establishes them, give a thought to having your techies dress like maids and butlers when they bring on new props.

This may seem to be a left-handed compliment, but it's meant sincerely: if you're looking for a musical for your outreach program that travel to senior citizen/assisted living facilities, you should consider this one. You don't really need much in the way of set, and the entire show can travel in one car: the cast in the front, the props in the back.

Speaking of the set: considering that Michael is established as a financially successful novelist, wouldn’t this couple move to a new home at least once in their lives? All right, perhaps you don’t want to build a different set for Act Two, and you’re content to keep Michael and Agnes at the same address. But how about some new wallpaper for that Act Two bedroom?

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at and each Friday at His newest book, Broadway Musical MVPs, 1960-2010: The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons, is now available through Applause Books and at