The Setup: Once your first musical, The Fantasticks, runs for 42 straight years -- that would be an astounding 17,162 performances -- making it the universe's longest-running musical, you are forever cursed. Rich, but cursed. You can never top it. Harvey Schmidt (music) and Tom Jones (book and lyrics) followed their immensely popular smash with a modest hit, 110 Degrees in the Shade, and then went even smaller in I Do! I Do!, this two-character study about marriage, adapted from Jan de Hartog's The Fourposter.
The Execution: Schmidt and Jones had the savvy to cast Broadway supernovas Robert Preston and Mary Martin, and the strength of the stars kept the production going for a respectable year-and-a-half run. The show itself is fairly feeble, with undistinguished music, pat situations, and a big fat slap in the audience's face right in the middle of Act I, when husband Michael suddenly announces he's having an affair. The affair's not the problem -- it's just so dramatically sloppy and unmotivated.
Once announced, we lose all sympathy for Michael for the rest of the show, which still has a long way to go. It seems all wrong, and even Steven Fenley, one of Houston's most natural and sympathetic performers, can't get us back into the character's good graces again. Wife Agnes (Shondra Marie), after a dreadful hoochie-koochie number, "Flaming Agnes," forgives him after a fashion, but we don't believe it. The show keeps lurching from one low point to another: through childbirth, hubby's inattention, wife's list of irritating habits, their son's staying out late (oh, my!), and other quite boring routines of married life. There's nothing unique about the material, nor is it uniquely dramatized by its music and lyrics.
The Verdict: Under Rachel Mattox's lively direction, which cleverly camouflages the show's lack of quality, Fenley and Marie work overtime to charm us, but, sorry to say, it's a losing battle.
(Through April 10. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline, 281-583-7573)