I Married An Angel at City Center Encores!
by Angela Tricarico
Falling perfectly into the mission of New York City Center’s Encores! series, I Married An Angel, a 1938 collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, is a musical that time has seemingly forgotten, revived at City Center this week with the original orchestrations and revamped choreography by Joshua Bergasse (the original choreography was by George Balanchine, choreographing a star vehicle for his fiancee. In that spirit, Bergasse choreographed for his wife, Sara Mearns, who portrayed the titular Angel).
In short, the musical is about an uptight bachelor, Willy, who is far more concerned about his career prospects than his romantic ones. He tells his sister that he’d only marry if an angel were to descend from heaven and marry him. Cue the Angel, descending from the heavens to marry Willy. The Angel, not entirely sure how to be a woman, is brutally honest and insults many of Willy’s biggest clients.
As is the case with many musicals of that era, the problematic nature of some of the musical’s content may be why time forgot it, and the content, though revamped by Sandy Rustin and Sara Saltzberg, still didn’t quite stand the test of time in 2019. However, this musical is truly dance-driven, and all of its strongest points, every moment that I look back on with awe and amazement have one thing in common: the ensemble.
I Married An Angel’s ensemble is made up of 21 members, a strong mixture of some Main Stem favorites and ballet dancers making their musical theater debuts. They all served multiple purposes, as bank investors and partygoers, participants in dream ballets and dance sequences, and celestial beings.
The celestial beings, a group of Angels and sisters to the titular one (who we later find out is named Brigitta), were played divinely by Christine DiGiallonardo, Erica Dorfler, Julia Estrada, Ta’Nika Gibson, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Lindsay O’Neil and Kathy Voytko. In a delightful scene with Mearns, the group of Angels likened being a woman without love to an angel without wings. They moved around each other gracefully and spoke in rhyming couplets, trading off lines effortlessly without ever dropping a rhyme.
During the show’s first act, there is a worldly ballet sequence which sees the Angel on her honeymoon across the world. All of the ballet dancers in the ensemble adapted their styles as the music changed to represent different countries, from Russia to Scotland to Germany. The movement was fluid and lyrical—a beautifully danced classic ballet piece, unlike a lot of the dancing we see in musical theater today (only when revivals of classics come around do we get a chance to see the musical theater of our past, filled with dream ballets and extended balletic sequences in reality).
A second, larger dance sequence in the show’s second act, represents each of the main characters’ Roxy Music Hall fantasies, where the styles range from tap to jazz, to a larger ballet. That ballet sequence, titled “Othello: A Surrealist Ballet,” definitely lives up to the surreal element of its name. The scene is impressive, though, with all of the ballet dancers of the ensemble, plus Mearns, dancing in colorblocked bodysuits and masks that mirrored works of art. These parts, with ten-or-so ensemblists dancing ballet in perfect unison, were among the most beautiful of the show. The images in my head from this production are largely made up of the large group sections like this.
In contrast to all of the ballet, the production also featured a showstopping tap moment in the first act: “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Led by Hayley Podschun and Phillip Attmore, the entire company is involved in this number. It begins rather slowly, but builds steadily until the entire ensemble is tap dancing in unison, the ringing of their taps filling City Center above the orchestra’s playing.
I Married An Angel is a textbook classic musical, with large-scale dance numbers and a huge full orchestra, and despite the book feeling outdated for 2019 audiences, this company’s stellar ensemble kept it feeling fresh.