New Rep's first summer production is "Side by Side by Sondheim", a Tony Award winning musical with a collection of both famous and obscure songs by Stephen Sondheim. This show was commissioned in 1975 by Cleo Laine and her husband, John Dankworth as a fundraiser for their theater in England. Although Sondheim's later works are not included in this show, it stops before Sweeney Todd", "Side by Side" became very popular with regional companies and was largely responsible for Sondheim's popularity beyond New York and London theater circles. The array of songs in this show which he wrote both lyrics and music include numbers from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", "Anyone Can Whistle", "Company", "Follies", "A Little Night Music" and "Pacific Overtures" as well as songs with his lyrics from "West Side Story" with music by Leonard Bernstein, "Gypsy" with music by Jule Styne and "Do I Hear a Waltz" with music by Richard Rodgers. The rarities found in "Side by Side" are from television musical "Evening Primrose", the movie, "The Seven Percent Solution" and the hit revue "The Mad Show". Director Rick Lombardo cast three topnotch equity performers as well as an entertaining narrator and he infuses the show with a lot of "Comedy Tonight" mixed with poignant ballads that will take your breath away with their splendid renditions. Musical director Todd C. Gordon not only taught the cast 28 numbers with snippets from 27 more, but he also plays the grand piano perfectly on stage. The energetic trio masters Sondheim's tongue twisting lyrics and difficult melodies of all these songs with ease, having learned them in 9 short rehearsals and the audience is rewarded by their fantastic and exuberant performance.
From the set, to costumes, to lighting, this show is perfectly executed from start to finish. Having seen the Broadway production in 1977 where the narrator was Hermione Gingold and the three performers were Nancy Dussault, Georgia Brown and Jack Blackton, this version is just as wonderful thirty years later with Leigh Barrett, Brendan McNab and Maryann Zschau. Emerson college senior Jonathan Colby is the narrator of the show and while he is many years younger than Miss Gingold and doesn't sing "I Never Do Anything Twice" as she did in 1977, he gives a newer, hip spin on the role including local Boston happenings. Jonathan also can be heard on weekends on radio station WERS 88.9 FM as the host of "Standing Room Only: The Best of Broadway and Beyond." Each of the trio of performers get their own chance to shine individually in their solos as well as in their duets and group numbers, too. The ensemble numbers include "Comedy Tonight" with Brendan getting caught on the curtain as it rises and Leigh and Maryann doing pratfalls at the end of it, "Love is in the Air" which was cut from "Forum", "Getting Married Today" with many hilarious moments including Leigh ending up with a plastic bag on her head to shield her from the rain, "Company", "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" an Andrews Sisters' type of song with Brendan as one of the sisters, "Everybody Says Don't", "Pretty Lady" where Brendan and the woman pretend to be cockney sailors lusting after a Japanese girl, "You Gotta Get A Gimmick" where the trio pretends to be strippers from "Gypsy" and which is also a show stopping number, Medley called Conversation Piece where they sing 27 snippets of songs and "Side by Side",the finale complete with hats and canes and a big dance number. Rick's comic touches to these songs keeps them fresh and alive to entertain today's audience. The cast is adept at moving you tears as they are in getting you to split your sides laughing, too.
Leigh Barrett, a beautiful red head with a fabulous soprano voice, gets to soar off the charts in "Getting Married Today" and"I Have a Love" while she gets to strut her stuff in "Broadway Baby" and "Another Hundred People". Her funniest number is "The Boy From" where she wears coke bottle glasses while chasing after Brendan as a vain gay Spanish man with his shirt unbuttoned to the navel while he suns himself with a three piece mirror, while her most poignant one is "Losing My Mind" from Follies. Leigh's impish behavior, comedic talents and tremendous voice are wonderful to behold in this show. Brendan McNab's strong tenor voice and comic antics come through in "Beautiful Girls" while the girls wear big headresses as Follies girls, "Buddy's Blues" and in the bitchy, biting "Could I Leave You" which was originally sung by Alexis Smith in "Follies". His tender renditions include "I Remember" about a man who is trapped in a department store and hasn't been outdoors in years, "Marry Me a Little" which was added to the revival "Company", sung by Bobby at the end of the first act and "Anyone Can Whistle" which is a tender ballad and shows off his strong falsetto at the end of it. Brendan's duets with Leigh include "Little Things You Do" and "We're Gonna Be Alright". The beautiful brunette comedienne, Maryann Zschau who I last saw in her IRNE award winning role of Mrs. Meers in "Thoroughly Modern Millie", shows off her strong singing talents and dramatic chops in this show. Her serious songs stop the show with her powerful renditions of "Send in the Clowns'' and "I'm Still Here". With her duets with Leigh, they stop the show in the magnificent "A Boy Like That/ I Have a Love" from "West Side Story" and they leave them laughing in "If Momma Was Married" and "Can That Boy Foxtrot" which was cut from "Follies" and with foxtrot as a euphemism for doing it sexually. Her duets with Brendan include "You Must Meet My Wife" about a mistress hearing that her lover's wife is still a virgin and "Barcelona" about a dumb flight attendant not realizing she is only a one night stand. Maryann's comic solo's are "Ah Paree" from "Follies" and another show stopping song called "I Never Do Anything Twice" about a madam explaining she was taught to enjoy sex best only once with same man so she can do it with many other men in the future. So for an outstanding summer show in a fully air-conditioned theatre with free parking, be sure to catch "Side by Side by Sondheim" at New Rep in Watertown, MA. Tell them Tony sent you.