Sondheim revue provides insight for fans, others
For fans of Stephen Sondheim, “Side by Side by Sondheim” is full of marvelous moments.
The CLO Cabaret musical revue that runs through Aug. 18 at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown, features selections of more than two dozen songs — mostly from Broadway musicals — for which Sondheim penned either the lyrics or music or both.
Scenic designer Tony Ferrieri and lighting designer Andrew David Ostrowski have created a setting that is as urban, sophisticated and classy as Sondheim's material.
Interesting quips and tidbits sprinkled throughout the show provide insight and context, as well as laughter.
Sondheim's most widely known for his work on shows such as “Gypsy,” “West Side Story” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” And while those are definitely a part of the revue, the attention is on lesser-known works such as “Saturday Night” and “Anyone Can Whistle.”
Songs from two iconic Sondheim works — “Follies” and “Company” — commandeer nearly one-third of the evening.
It's important to note that the revue itself has been around since 1976 and, except for “Saturday Night” that debuted in 1997, the music comes from shows that originated in the 1960s and '70s.
Director and choreographer Richard Sabellico got permission to reorganize the original show, which he did by adding a number or two and providing additional continuity. The songs are now loosely organized into sections that focus on topics like love or marriage.
But what Sabellico and his cast of four actually do is turn each of the selections into short, but compelling, dramas. The performers — Daniel Krell, Billy Hepfinger, Caroline Nicolian and Lenora Nemetz — become actors who sing.
Don't take that the wrong way. All four of them have excellent voices and sufficient range to successfully tackle the music. But it's their acting skills that turn them into something deeper and more meaningful. They lend their talents to showcasing the emotions, wit and intelligence of Sondheim's lyrics with precision, articulation and clarity.
Nicolian and Nemetz use their acting skills and their voices to turn “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love” from “West Side Story” into a mini-opera with an emotional-but-touching beginning, middle and resolution.
Hepfinger, Nicolian and Nemetz engage in a succession of songs from “Follies” — “Could I Leave You,” “Losing My Mind” and “I'm Still Here” — that are rightly introduced as “monologues with underscoring.”
Krell brings the same interior drama and understanding to “The Road You Didn't Take” from “Follies.”
Nemetz, assisted by Krell, provided one of the most meaningful and flawless renderings of “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” that I have ever heard.
It's not all grim introspection, though. The irrepressible Nemetz wowed the audience with her off-beat theatrics on “I Never Do Anything Twice” and “The Boy From…” from “The Mad Show.” Nicolian was adorably upbeat with “Broadway Baby.”
The one flaw in this production of “Side by Side by Sondheim” is that it may have difficulty in finding its audience.
Those with only a glancing acquaintance with Sondheim may be anticipating more-familiar material from his golden oldies or from more-recent musicals such as “Into the Woods” or “Sweeney Todd.” Veteran Sondheim fans may find the material too familiar, even those that are pitched as being obscure.
“Can That Boy Fox Trot” may have been cut from “Follies” during tryouts in Boston, but it's not unknown to Sondheim devotees.
That being said, much of Sondheim's genius is that each performance and performer brings something new to his work. Depending on what's going on in your life or the performer's, it's likely that at least one lyric will connect with your emotions or intellect as though you're hearing it for the first time — and this cast does exactly that.
Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or firstname.lastname@example.org.