By Lonnie The Theater Lady
“Sondheim by Sondheim” is a funny affectionate tribute to Steven Sondheim conceived by James Lapine.
In this production, actual videos of interviews with Sondheim are projected onto an onstage screen framed by faux red velvet curtains reminiscent of those seen in movie theaters back when the audience wasn’t instructed to, “Turn off your cell phones,” but instead when signage read, “Ladies please remove your hats.” I remember feeling the excitement and the thrill of anticipation for what was to come, when the curtains slowly, majestically, gracefully rolled open at the movie’s start.
These intimate videos give insights into Sondheim’s difficult childhood. The look into his creative process is fascinating. He worked lying down–to make napping more convenient, of course. He liked to sip alcohol from a shot glass for inspiration–unless he was obsessively sharpening pencils in order to procrastinate. The film footage that highlights his sardonic humor is a fascinating look into who he was.The footage makes the production much more meaningful and enjoyable than a typical musical revue would be.
The live show opens with the entire company singing an impressive melodic medley of snippets of Sondheim songs.The beautiful blending of the company’s voices promises a good show is ahead–promise made, promise kept.
The orchestra (including a cleverly, effectively used synthesizer) is perfectly modulated to compliment the strong vocals. Jay Weaver, the sound director rocked it, never once allowing the orchestra to overplay the vocalists. Every one of these talented vocalists deserves to be heard. And, they are. Every number is an auditory treat.
It’s difficult to highlight standout performances when every number is so entertaining and well done. I cannot say enough about the skilled vocalists’ performances. The Wedding is Off (Merrily We Roll Along) is humorously, memorably, poignantly sung by Christa Brook.
See a preview here.
Ian Olsen is is frighteningly demonic as he sings Epiphany (Sweeny Todd).He portrays a man whose mind is beginning to crack as he mourns the death of his wife. His malevolent facial expressions, evil tone of voice and tense body posturing are chilling. Well sung. Well acted.
Each and every number Anna Chesney sings is a wonder. The clear, pure sound of her expressive voice is mesmerizing. That coupled with her commanding stage presence is a joy to behold!
The entire company comically performs You Are the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me (Road Show). Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre, the director, directs an exchange among the company members that has the entire audience laughing. The choices she makes in staging throughout this show keep every number interesting, unique, and often humorous.
The show runs a bit long—just over two and a half hours, but it is a gorgeous “must see,” not only for Sondheim fans, but for everyone who appreciates remarkable performances by fine vocalists.