THEATER | At the Chanhassen, “I Do! I Do!” is new again…but not new enough

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Back in 1993, when the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ first run of I Do! I Do! ended after 22½ years of continuous showings, nearly 700,000 people had participated in what had become a Minnesota tradition. Clearly the show was beloved by many or it wouldn’t have lasted that long. The actors for that entire run, David Anders and Susan Goeppinger, became famous in their own right, marrying in real life after 500 performances as husband and wife, breaking a record for longest-running musical with its original cast, and even landing a People magazine article. After seeing the new production of I Do! I Do! at Chanhassen on Friday night, I’ve concluded that we’re now living in a very different time.

I Do! I Do! tells the story of a couple beginning with their wedding night at the turn of the 20th century and ending 50 years later as they move out of the house they inhabited for all that time, after raising children and facing the usual ups and downs of married life. With just two characters to keep the action moving, they need to be strong and work together well. Keith Rice as Michael and Norah Long as Agnes share a chemistry that make you believe they could be married. Each is also a talented singer and provides touching moments throughout. I particularly enjoyed “Flaming Agnes,” which gave me brief hope that this housewife had some spunk, while Michael’s delightful “I Love My Wife,” showed wit and charm. The most famous song in the production, “My Cup Runneth Over,” is poignant in its sincerity. The other numbers are mostly unmemorable.

i do! I do!, presented at the chanhassen dinner theatres. for tickets ($41-$52) and information, see chanhassentheatres.com.

The costumes by Rich Hamson are gorgeous, beginning with Agnes’s billowing, intricate wedding dress, and all the fashions work well in reflecting appropriate time periods. I also particularly enjoyed the three-piece music ensemble, with keyboard, cello, and flute/clarinet. Their beautiful playing enhances the production throughout, and with their location onstage we are able to watch them play between scenes. The whole play is set in the bedroom of the couple’s house with their four-poster bed as its centerpiece, and the set is functional though not extraordinary.

Maybe in the 1970s and 80s this show resonated more with married couples who could relate to Agnes and Michael’s story because it reminded them of their own. I’m not sure if it was the very traditional male/female roles that this show portrays, or if a prerequisite to enjoying the show is that one has to be married for some time, but I was left unsatisfied. I realize that condensing 50 years of life into two hours is difficult, but I was frustrated when significant problems in the couple’s relationship went unresolved during a scene and then were completely forgotten by the next scene. How did they jump like that? What happened in the interim? Is this a secret that only married couples know? Those major leaps in the storyline and a paucity of details on the characters’ lives mean that the audience never really gets to know Michael and Agnes very well, and so for me it was hard to care about them. What we did get to know—that Michael is a pompous philanderer, that both couldn’t wait to get their children out of the house—did not make them very endearing.

I acknowledge that my reaction to the play is likely at odds with that of much of the audience. Friday night’s crowd seemed to greatly enjoy the show and expressed their appreciation with a standing ovation at the end. Many of them may have been more in the target demographic than I was, and even some 20-somethings in line were excited to revisit a beloved classic. I would not want to discourage those who might want to experience what has been a very popular show in the past. The current production is well staged and acted and may well be to your liking though it fell somewhat flat with my companion and me.

This production is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you’ll know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.