Solana Beach, CA—North Coast Repertory Theatre is ending its 33rd season with a Sondheim celebration…the 1977 Musical Revue “Side By Side By Sondheim”. Its just what the doctor ordered for the latest round of San Diego balmy nights, or in the case of opening night, rainy nights.
Frankly it’s an easy like especially if you are on Sondheim’s radar and a fan of his earlier works like “Company”, Gypsy” (Julie Styne), “Forum”, “A Little Night Music”, “West Side Story “ (with Leonard Bernstein)“Follies”, and a few not so familiar, “Evening Primrose”, “Anyone Can Whistle”, “The Seven Percent Solution” and “Pacific Overtures”.
Many of the songs are from “Company” Sondheim’s 1970 hit with book by George Furth. Two years ago Cygnet Theatre in Old Town mounted an excellent production that many of the songs will be familiar to San Diego audiences lucky enough to have seen that show. In fact the title song, “Side By Side By Sondheim” is from “Company”.
That aside, Artistic Director David Ellenstein has assembled a terrific cast to sing/perform the more than thirty musical numbers from more than nine or ten of his better known musicals and a few of his lesser known.
“Side By Side” made its way to Broadway by way of London as a tribute to the composer-lyricist and still, to this day draws audiences eager to be a part of the Sondheim following.
So sayeth the Narrator: “There’s very little plot, and it is in fact a show which was born out of two ideas on the part of three British entertainers. One was to provide a little congenial employment for themselves as they saw the pound sinking in the west, and secondly they wanted to do a little missionary work on behalf of Sondheim’s songs among the English natives who hitherto been remarkably unresponsive”.
No need to worry. The show, with a few changes here and there and a few replacements here and there, is still a stopper as it was at NCR on opening nigh!
Much of the composers history and rise to fame is also the subject of yet another Sondheim tell all, “Sondheim On Sondheim” seen earlier this year as told by Sondheim himself based on a series of interviews, and that show originated in 2010 when he was 80.
It’s no secret that the man is an icon and what better way to showcase his works than to be performed by four talented musical theatre artists accompanied by two Baby Grand piano’s in the grand fashion seen at NCR through Aug 16th. Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper narrates and jumps in with his easy tenor voice as needed. But it’s the expertise of Rena Strober, Angelina Réaux and Randall Dodge who carry the show.
The show opens with the four greeting us with “Comedy Tonight” (‘Something That’s Gaudy, Something That’s Bawdy’…Something For Everyone’) from ‘Forum’ and then launches into “Love Is In The Air”. Angelina and Rena belt out “If Momma Was Married” from “Gypsy” and meet up again with “Can That Boy Foxtrot”, a number that was cut from “Follies”…’ a fun song with even funnier lyrics. “As dumbbells go, He’s rather slow, And as for being saintly, Even faintly, no, But who needs Albert Schweitzer, When the lights are low, And oh boy, can that boy…foxtrot”. (read into it whatever you like)
Randall and Rena do a number with “Barcelona” from “Company”, and Strober beautifully interprets one of my favorites, “Broadway Baby” from” Follies. Angelina’s “I Never Do Anything Twice” from “The Seven Cent Solution” is a hoot. All three close out Act I with “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” from “Company”. It was a fun piece and then on to Act II.
Three of my favorites are highlighted in Act II and offer more ballads and self reflection. Angelina is superb in her rendition of “Send In The Clowns” (“A Little Night Music”), and “I’m Still Here” (“Follies”). Strober blew my mind with her rendering of “Losing My Mind” and “Another Hundred People” (“Follies”).
All three, Angelina, Rena and Randall ham it up with “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” from “Gypsy”, Angelina is a hoot and a howl with “The Boy From” (“The Mad Show” is a takeoff on the “Girl From Ipanema”) and Nicholas’s “Being Alive” from “Company” is a moving rendition highlighting is tenor voice. Dodge shines in “Could I Leave You”, again from “Follies”.
Musical director and pianist Alby Potts and Tom Abruzzo play side by side on their baby grand’s not quite dueling piano’s but very synchronized and just about perfect. Marty Burnett’s set is minimal, that’s all that’s needed. Four chairs with a large photo of Sondheim looking down on the actors are simple but functional.
Matt Novotny’s lighting and Aaron Rumley’s projections of some of the Sondheim pieces, Melanie Chen’s sound design and Susan Jordon-DeLaon’s choreography all give the production a polished look. But of course, it’s the music that counts and if its music you love your cup will runeth over.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Aug. 16th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre