Sondheim on Sondheim
An autobiographical musical revue seems a misnomer or impossibility. However, Sondheim on Sondheim makes the impossible possible. The revue is simpleSondheim talks to the audience via video, and a cast of eight performers sing Sondheim songs. The show recently opened in Cleveland, the only previous performances were in New York City.
Simplicity marks the production and places the focus on Sondheim's work. Scenic designer Jeff Herrmann has created a set of platforms, ramps and a few steps. On the upstage wall Daniel Brodie (Projection Designer) projects videos of interviews with Stephen Joshua Sondheim. In the videos, Sondheim talks about his training with Oscar Hammerstein II, his romantic relationships, and the shows he wrote: the rehearsals, the actors and the performances. He also tells about his family and his cruel, unloving mother.
The eight cast members sing 40 songs from Sondheim's shows. A member of the cast might sing one or two lines from a song and modulate to another song and perform all of the second song. One of the most interesting parts of the show is a duet that interlaces "Losing My Mind" and "Not a Day Goes By." Marie-France Arcilla and Ciara Renee sing this duet, sitting in facing chairs. Both performers have excellent singing voices and bring out the emotions in both songs.
In another sequence, Pamela Myers stands in front of the screen and watches a video of herself rehearsing for Company, for which she was nominated for a Tony (a production which I saw many years ago). Myers still has the energy to sing "Another Hundred People" (from Company) at the incredible pace Sondheim prescribed for this song. Later in the show, Myers gives emotional interpretations to "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Send in the Clowns."
Brian Sutherland brings maturity to the company. With experience on Broadway and touring, he was assigned difficult songs: "Invocation" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; "Epiphany" from Sweeney Todd; and "Finishing the Hat" from Sunday in the Park with George. Sutherland has a strong voice and self confidence on the stage. His theatrical experience and maturity make this a star turn.
Two cast members, James Penca and Ciara Renee, are students with Victoria Bussert at Baldwin-Wallace. Both have excellent singing ability, dance skills and a growing stage presence. They add the excitement youthful performers can bring to a production.
The six-piece combo is up stage-left, barely visible to the audience, but physically close to the singers as they work from the ramps and platforms.
Victoria Bussert directs this production. She helps each performer create the mood of the show that is the source of the song he/she sings. Bussert directs the musical theater program at Baldwin-Wallace College in Cleveland, where in November she will direct a student-faculty collaboration of Follies.
Sondheim on Sondheim is an exciting concept in musical revues. Several people are responsible for this unique productionDavid Kernan (inspired the concept), James Lapine (originally conceived and directed the review) and, of course, Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics). Kernan is known for writing musical revues; he wrote Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood and Noël/Cole: Let's Do It, a review of the works of Noël Coward and Cole Porter. Lapine, recipient of three Tony Awards, is known for his collaborations with Sondheim.
Sondheim on Sondheim is produced by Great Lakes Theater and Playhouse Square. The show is running in the Hanna Theatre through July 8, 2012. For performance and ticket information, please call 216-241-6000 or visit www.greatlakestheater.org/.
The fall season of the Great Lakes Theater features The Winter's Tale (September 28 - November 4, 2012), The Imaginary Invalid (October 5 - November 3, 2012), and A Christmas Carol (November 30 - December 23, 2012). The Broadway Series in PlayhouseSquare in the fall will feature Anything Goes (October 2-14, 2012) and Beauty and the Beast (November 6-18, 2012.
The Hanna Theatre
- David Ritchey