Reviewing the new Stephen Sondheim revue: 'Being Alive' at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Last Edit: WaymanWong 08:53 pm EDT 06/20/24
Posted by: WaymanWong 08:37 pm EDT 06/20/24

Hey, old friends! There's a new show called ''Being Alive: A Sondheim Celebration,'' playing through June 30, in Mountain View, Calif. It's framed as a valentine to the great songwriter from Robert Kelley, founding artistic director of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, and his longtime musical director, William Liberatore. And so it is. The two came up with a revue of a few dozen Sondheim songs, carefully culled from a catalog of 334 tunes. So many possibilities!

Frankly, I've seen many Sondheim revues: ''Side by Side by Sondheim,'' ''Marry Me a Little,'' ''Putting It Together,'' ''Sondheim on Sondheim,'' etc. So my focus on ''Being Alive,'' the newest, is: What's it about, really about? And: Do we need another Sondheim revue? In the program, Kelley quotes Sondheim: ''The only reason to write is from love.'' So the running motif throughout ''Being Alive'' is a lyric from ''Company'': '' Somebody crowd me with love.''

If you're looking for your Sondheim favorites, they're probably here: ''Move On,'' ''Anyone Can Whistle,'' ''Loving You,'' ''Could I Leave You?'' and, of course, ''Send in the Clowns.'' In putting it together, Kelley also includes lesser-known delights, like ''One Wonderful Day'' from ''Saturday Night'' and ''There Is No Other Way'' from ''Pacific Overtures.'' Some tunes are given a new context: A young father sings ''Not While I'm Around'' as a lullaby to his baby. Two men at a bar commiserate about the ladies, singing ''Pretty Women.'' There also is a loose framing device for the show: In Act I, the actor/singers are arriving at the theater and rehearsing; in Act II, they're putting on costumes to perform said show. Overall, this artifice is pretty inconsequential and doesn't add much.

The talented cast of six features Sleiman Alahmadieh, Noel Anthony, Solona Husband, Nick Nakashima, Anna Tolpegin and Melissa WolfKlain. They won't erase your memories of the original artists of these tunes, but they are polished and personable. So ultimately, my disappointment with ''Being Alive'' is that I wanted, to quote the title of a Sondheim ditty from ''Dick Tracy'': ''More.'' And for a few seconds, ''Being Alive'' hints at it. Near the top of the show, the six actors (3 men, 3 women) are broken up into three couples: a straight one, a gay one and a lesbian one. They vow to be singing about all kinds of love. Yet they quickly reconfigure as three straight couples: one in their 20s, one in their 30s and one in their 40s.

And the rest of the revue is relatively conventional in depicting straight couples becoming friends, falling in love, getting married, having kids, breaking up and getting back together. There's no gender swapping or sexual variations. ''Being Alive'' returns to its early configuration of a straight couple, a gay couple and a lesbian couple only during its penultimate song: ''The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened.'' This lovely, lilting tune was originally written for Wilson and his wife, Nellie, in ''Bounce'' (2003), but reassigned to Wilson's brother, Addison, and his male lover, Hollis, in the retitled ''Road Show'' (2008).

In ''Being Alive,'' the cast announces that ''The Best Thing'' is Sondheim's most personal love song, and a little earlier, mentions that Sondheim didn't marry until he was in his 80s, but never identifies him as gay. In 2024, and during Pride Month, it seems odd that LGBT affection is still, to quote a phrase often associated with Oscar Wilde, the 19th-century gay playwright and wit: ''the love that dare not speak its name.'' Again, ''Being Alive'' will give you two hours of Sondheim's sublime songs, pleasantly sung. But I was hoping this revue's point of view might be a little less generic and give us ''more to see.''
Link TheatreWorks Silicon Valley: 'Being Alive: A Sondheim Celebration'
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