Arts & Culture

Real life couple portray 50 years of marital bliss in Roxy’s ‘I Do!’

Tim and Karen Robu play a married couple in Roxy's musical "I Do! I Do!"
Tim and Karen Robu play a married couple in Roxy's musical "I Do! I Do!"

Tim and Karen Robu won’t even venture a guess of how many shows they’ve performed in together.

Married for 22 years, the longtime theater couple has appreciated companies like Music Theatre Wichita, which would frequently cast them opposite each other. They both felt odd cast in MTW’s “Fiddler on the Roof” in 2012, where she played Golde and he was Lazar Wolf, intending to marry her daughter.

“There’s just a familiarity there,” Karen said. “The only con is that sometimes you’re too familiar.”

She points to an MTW production of “Gypsy,” where she played Mama Rose and Tim was Herbie, her eventual husband.

“When Rose and Herbie meet, Wayne (Bryan, MTW artistic director) said, ‘OK, I need you to be less familiar with each other,’” Karen recalled with a laugh. “We were too comfortable with each other.”

Their latest onstage pairing, this time for Roxy’s Downtown, puts marriage front and center.

It’s “I Do! I Do!,” a musical that traces married couple Michael and Agnes through 50 years of wedded bliss, beginning with their honeymoon and continuing through their golden anniversary.

The show opens Thursday and runs through June 2.

Tim had performed “I Do!” about 30 years ago, and he and Karen played similar roles opposite each other in “The Fourposter,” the play on which the musical is based, at Wichita Center for Performing Arts.

Roxy’s producer John Hammer had suggested another show for the couple to perform last year, and Karen – who turns 50 this year – rejected it because she didn’t like the material.

“I’m at the point where I want to do things I feel really good about,” she said. “I thought if I was going to be that busy, I wanted something that’s well-written and well-done.”

Karen said she has a different perspective than when she performed the role in “The Fourposter.”

“It speaks to me differently, but I’m in a different place now than I was then,” the mother of two daughters said. “I was really a new mother with a 4-year-old and a new baby. This time I’ve got one that just went to college and one that’s a freshman in high school. This is a totally different experience for me.”

Tim said that, even though the script had been updated a bit, there was still a lot of déjà vu in the role.

“A lot of it came back,” he said. “There were times I went, ‘Yeah, I know this.’”

When it came time to find a director, the couple had one caveat: Whoever it was had to understand the themes of the musical.

“I think it needs to be someone who understands long-term relationships, who’s been in a long-term relationship,” Karen said. “I just think that is going to help with the show.”

They found that in Mark Mannette, married for 27 years, whose sons Karen had directed at Music Theatre for Young People.

“This is a wonderful piece for them, because they have so much life experience that works for them,” Mannette said. “There’s a shared knowledge, where you don’t have to say too much because you already know something. If I say something, it’s usually a reminder because they already know it.”

Mannette, director of the theater program at Newman University, said he’s enjoyed working with the Robus. “It’s a blast working with them, because they’re such great collaborators,” he said. “They have such a great chemistry together, and we can share ideas and just shape it.”

Andy Bowers, newly hired as music director at Roxy’s, conducts a four-piece band playing the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt score. Rachel Arbuckle is the choreographer.

Karen Robu, associate minister at Plymouth Congregational Church and lecturer in the college of fine arts at Wichita State, came to Wichita in 1993 for performances at the Crown Uptown, including “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” Tim was technical director at the theater, and they’d often hit the bars or a movie following the performances.

Three to four months later, they considered themselves dating.

Tim, now an exhibit technician at Exploration Place, said “I Do! I Do!” strikes a chord with married people no matter where they are in life.

“Everybody likes to think there are still couples that are like this. They feel good when they see it,” he said. “They overcome obstacles together, whatever the situation might be.”

Playing opposite each other has never caused problems, Karen said. “He’s my best friend,” she added. “We don’t really fight.”

‘I DO! I DO!’

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, from May 17 to June 2; 6 p.m. Sundays, May 20 and 27; 2 p.m. Sunday, June 3

Where: Roxy’s Downtown, 412 ½ E. Douglas

Tickets: $20-$30, by calling the Roxy’s box office, 316-265-4400