Illusion Theater stages a quick-turn musical in the midst of a constitutional debate about marriage equality.
Talk about putting a show together at warp speed.
In July, composer and arranger Roberta Carlson and director Michael Robins met to discuss an idea that both had arrived at independently -- some kind of show relating to topics surfacing throughout Minnesota as it faces a statewide vote on the marriage amendment.
This weekend, Illusion Theater is premiering "Love and Marriage," a multimedia musical revue that arose from their collaboration.
"It was really a race to the finish," said Carlson, a longtime theater arranger, composer and accompanist. "We had to do this within a narrow window to maximize its shelf life -- not that love and marriage are ever going to go out of style."
The show features eight singer-actors, including veterans Dennis Spears and Randy Schmeling, midcareer performing artists Reid Harmsen and Melissa Hart and relative newcomers Cat Brindisi and Adara Bryan. They deliver two dozen songs from the likes of Bruno Mars ("Marry You"), Stephen Sondheim ("Loving You") and Cyndi Lauper ("Time After Time").
The music is interspersed with excerpts of videotaped interviews with gay, lesbian and straight couples such as Ivey Awards producer Scott Mayer and his partner, John Zeches; Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman and husband Ben Horn; and actor Bradley Greenwald and stage manager John Novak.
Music and interviews work together to build the architecture of the revue, said Robins of a show that includes songs by the Beach Boys, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Jason Mraz.
"Certain sections of the show deal with various arcs of relationships, like how did you meet, who popped the question, when did you have your first kiss," said Carlson. "These are stories about people, and their reflections on how they have come where they are."
Sometimes, onscreen images detract from live performers in theater. Director Robins said he is not worried about that.
"We didn't create characters and write dialogue for them," he said. "The filmed stories provide that, and enhance the piece. The live performers act as witnesses to the couples' testimonies, and use song to heighten the emotions."
A show that deals with hot-button political issues can also be a tricky proposition.
"That's why this is not a political show as such," added Robins. "We're not beating anyone over the head with the idea that you should not enshrine inequality in the constitution. It's to show people, all kinds of people, in various phases of love."
Carlson said that she was surprised by how changing pronouns or putting a number in the mouths of a same-sex couple changes both the context and meaning of the songs. She used "Wouldn't It Be Nice," from the Beach Boys, as an example.
"Instead of two teenagers pining about waiting so long to marry -- wouldn't it be nice -- it becomes, wouldn't it be nice if we could marry," she said. "That was startling and wistful."
The revue has caused Carlson, who left the University of Minnesota as a sophomore in the mid-1960s to do a show and has never looked back, to reflect on her own life.
"I have chosen not to be married but I'm very happy in the relationship I have with a great guy on the West Coast," she said. "But many of my friends are gay and don't have the choice to make."
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390