Putting It Together, aka The Greatest Hits Of Stephen Sondheim Volume Two, has made a splendid arrival at Chromolume Theatre, the 1999 Broadway revival version of the original 1992 UK production updating 1976’s Side by Side by Sondheim with songs from S.S. shows as recent as 1990’s Assassins—news which should come as the best end-of-year gift to Sondheim lovers near and far.
Drawing its title from one of Sunday In The Park With George’s most famous numbers, Putting It Together puts together thirty or so Sondheim classics to create a couple of the most gloriously performed hours of song you’re likely to hear anytime “Sooner Or Later.”
Like Side By Side By Sondheim, Putting It Together serves up a veritable musical feast, but goes its predecessor one better by featuring an additional two performers, a wisp of a plot, and music entirely by Sondheim. (The first revue included Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers, and Jule Styne tunes as well.)
No spoken dialog is needed for the words-and-music-by-Sondheim gems to tell the stories which unfold during an evening of cocktails among friends: an older couple (Kurt Andrew Hanson and Kristin Tower-Rowles), a younger man and woman (Chris Kerrigan and Rachel Hirshee), and a wry observer (Mike Irizarry) serving drinks, and plenty of them.
Over half the evening’s songs come from a quartet of Sondheim classics: Company, A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along, and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Follies and the movie Dick Tracy get three songs each, with the rest coming from Sweeney Todd, Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods, Assassins, and an opening number from The Frogs that will tickle the fancy of every live theater devotee. (“Don’t say ‘What?’ to every line you think you haven’t got. And if you’re in a snit because you’ve missed the plot, of which I must admit there’s not an awful lot, still don’t say ‘What?’”) Pre-announcements have rarely if ever sounded so good.
Neither for that matter have Sondheim songs like Towers-Rowles’ heartbreaking “Make It Like It Was,” Hirshee’s seductive “Sooner Or Later,” Hansen’s introspective “The Road You Didn’t Take,” Kerrigan’s jaunty “Live Alone And Like It,” and Irizarry’s deliciously hyperactive “Buddy’s Blues.”
Under Cate Caplin’s astute direction, the emphasis is not merely on vocal performance, however, but on storytelling as well, Sondheim’s lyrics recounting the tale of a wandering-eyed husband, a jaded, jealous wife, and a frisky younger couple whose eyes might not just be for each other.
Add Caplin’s always inventive choreography and you’ve got nearly two hours of entertainment delights interrupted only by intermission.
Songs like “Every Day A Little Death,” “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “Marry Me A Little”, and “Like It Was” work quite terrifically in contexts similar to those of the shows in which they were introduced.
Others attain added resonance in new contexts, Into The Woods’ “Hello Little Girl” a good deal creepier when sung by a real-life “wolf,” and Assassins’ “Unworthy Of Your Love” packing a more emotional punch when sung by a more traditional, hopelessly-in-love couple than attempted Presidential assassins John Hinckley and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme.
And let’s not forget the cutting-room floor onto which A Little Night Music’s “My Husband The Pig,” Follies’ “Country House,” and Anyone Can Whistle’s “It’s Always A Woman” lay until Putting It Together gave them new life.
Perhaps most thrillingly, you have never heard Company’s “Being Alive” sung more gloriously than it is in Putting It Together’s five-part harmony.
The dynamic, velvet-voiced Hansen once again shows off the Sondheim prowess he revealed in his Best Actor Scenie-winning performance as the titular Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, aka Sweeney Todd, his “Good Thing Going” a particular standout.
Though not the traditional romantic lead the part of Man 2 calls for, Kerrigan brings resonant pipes to a powerfully sung “Marry Me A Little.”
Irizarry gets considerably less to do than his fellow males, but what he does he does with infectious delight in “Invocation And Instructions To The Audience” and his tour-de-force “Buddy’s Blues.”
Most spectacular of all are the women, beginning with Hirshee’s revelatory star turn as Woman 2, making it exquisitely clear that 110 In The Shade’s saucy Snookie was just the tip of the talent iceberg for the gorgeous—and gorgeous-voiced—UCLA grad. (Just wait till you hear her sing Dick Tracy’s “More.”)
Saving best for last, this past year’s Scenie-winning Director/Star Of The Year Towers-Rowles once again takes your breath away in quite possibly her boldest, most richly-shaded performance to date. Diehard Sondheim fans have surely heard “Could I Leave You,” “The Ladies Who Lunch,” and “Getting Married Today” more times than they could count, but Towers-Rowles’ daring choices (and sensational pipes) make it feel almost like hearing them for the first time.
The entire cast benefits from Richard Berent’s always impeccable musical direction and live keyboard accompaniment.
It’s great, too, to see a Chromolume Theatre production that doesn’t have a blackbox set, James Esposito and Michael-Anthony Nozzi’s scenic design suggesting the elegant Manhattan high-rise flat in which Putting It Together’s cocktail party might likely take place.
Each performer gets but one outfit to wear, but since each is a Michael Mullen creation, costume design is in expert hands, with special mention due Towers-Rowles’ and Hirshee’s sparkly, spangly gowns.
Luc Hediger gives Putting It Together the topnotch lighting design it deserves, with Esposito’s sound design completing the package.
Lauren J. Peters is stage manager. Understudies David Callander, Michael D’Elia, Jillian Easton, Kayre Morrison, Jake Novak, and Teresa Tracy each have their scheduled performances.
It takes talent and guts to perform any Stephen Sondheim song, let alone two-and-a-half dozen of them in under two hours, but talent and guts the Chromolume Theatre cast possesses in spade.
Putting It Together is L.A. musical theater at its most marvelously performed, and that is Putting It Mildly indeed.
Chromolume Theatre at the Attic. 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.
November 16, 2014
Photos: James Esposito