Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Side by Side by Sondheim"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark

"Side by Side by Sondheim"
A Musical Entertainment

Lyrics and Music by Stephen Sondheim
Also Music by Leonarfd Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers, Jule Styne
Continuity by Ned Sherrin
Directed by Rick Lombardo
Musical Direction by Todd C. Gordon

Lighting Design by David Kahn
Costume Coordination by M. Bevin O'Gara
Sound Design by Rick Lombardo
Stage Manager Paul D. Farwell

Sung By
Leigh Barrett
Brendan McNab
Maryann Zschau

Continuity Read By
Jonathan Colby

Two-Piano Accompaniment by Todd C. Gordon, plus
Joshua Finstein, Paul Katz, or Steven Bergman

Stephen Sondheim is adamant about the purpose of his songs: either to advance the plot, or to develop character. So what happens if you rip a song out of the plot and sing it with a lot of others from other plots in a "revue" format? Well, when its a Sondheim song usually enough of the plot comes with, and in the hands of inspired singers, their re-interpretations can develop whole new sets of con-texts and sub-texts. The result is a perfect summer "entertainment."

The people who don't know Sondheim get a chance to sample many mini-stories from the mind of "The best lyricist the human race has ever produced" [I didn't say that; Tom Lehrer did, and he ought to know!]; those of us who do will find whole new meanings in the twist of a phrase, a fade into silence, a gesture of hand or body, or just ... a pause.

These performers know and love the music and their composer; they've brought the songs' plots to life on other stages; yet none of them merely "reprise" the work they did before. A true homage, after all, is something fresh found in the familiar.

And there is a cherry on top this confection: at one point the narrator says "we've done twenty-seven songs already, and can do twenty-seven more" (and, remember, this particular confection was put together before Sondheim had done "Sweeney Todd" or "Assassins" or "Sunday in The Park") --- but by then the hour is late, so rather than doing them full-out they "sample" in a medley called "Conversation Piece". And this turns out to be, I'm told, not a pre-planned selection of songs in the same key, but a free-for-all of memory. The singers toss phrases at one another, launch into new directions, link ideas, and just Have Fun.

And, on opening night, a solid summer audience did too.

( a k a larry stark)

"Side by Side by Sondheim" (7 - 22 July)
321 Arsenal Street, WATERTOWN MA
1 (617)923-8487

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide