Audiences can feast on samples of Sondheim
For “Side by Side by Sondheim” director and choreographer Richard Sabellico, a Stephen Sondheim song is like caviar.
So, he's preparing a tasting menu that he hopes will satisfy long-time fans of the composer and lyricist as well as help newcomers develop a taste for the musical theater artist's work.
“We are trying to keep the sophistication of the lyrics and infuse it with a little blue-collar humor. That's what will keep the audience coming,” Sabellico says.
The musical revue “Side by Side by Sondheim,” which begins its CLO Cabaret performances on May 23, had its debut in London in 1976.
It contains selections that Sondheim created for well-known musicals such as “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” as well as those he worked on with others, such as “Gypsy” and “West Side Story.”
To freshen the revue, Sabellico has reorganized it and added to the song list with Sondheim numbers such as “Being Alive” and “Marry Me A Little.”
“They are not just singing songs and doing clever dances,” Sabellico says. “Every song has a scene to go with it, either from the (original) show or created for the revue. … (Sondheim) has an uncommon grasp on the human condition and the human psyche.”
Performing in the CLO Cabaret production is a quartet of performers who stand side-by-side with Sabellico in their appreciation for Sondheim's talent.
“There's a lot to like whether you are intensely familiar with his work or never heard his songs before,” says Billy Hepfinger, who is making his CLO Cabaret debut.
“You really have to pay attention to what you are saying,” says Caroline Nicolian, who previously served as an understudy for “A Grand Night for Singing” at the CLO Cabaret. “Of course, it is pretty music, but you want to get the (song's) message out to the audience.”
For Nicolian, a particular challenge is her song “A Boy Like That” from “West Side Story” that requires extra work when removed from the emotional context of the musical.
“He really does write for the performer and that makes it very easy to sing the song he writes for the play,” says Lenora Nemetz, a veteran of 20 Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera shows.
That's not to say he doesn't also challenge the performer to do a little work, Nemetz adds. When she first encountered “Moon in My Window,” which she sings in the revue, Nemetz thought it was a little slow.
“But then, once I rehearsed it a little more and we visited it again, I thought, ‘This is great,' ” she says.
Sondheim's lyrics are often complex and deep. But they offer rewards to performers and audience members who listen and think.
“His songs are not like anything else — so rich, so deep but emotional,” says Daniel Krell, who also is making his CLO Cabaret debut after performing in more than 35 Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera productions. “There's a lot of heart there and a lot of passion, so you can mine deeper and deeper, and the deeper you go, the more complex (the song) becomes.”
Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or firstname.lastname@example.org.