If you’re a Stephen Sondheim fan here in L.A., you’ve likely enjoyed Side By Side By Sondheim and/or Putting It Together, perhaps multiple times. Chances are, however, that you’ve never seen a Stephen Sondheim Revue starring none other than Steve himself (albeit on video), which is why International City Theatre’s Los Angeles Premiere of Broadway’s 2010 Sondheim On Sondheim comes as news worth trumpeting far and wide.
It’s not the entire Sondheim On Sondheim song list is new to a Sondheim revue. “Anyone Can Whistle,” “Losing My Mind,” and “Send In The Clowns” were in Side By Side while “Being Alive,” “Do I Hear A Waltz,” and “Old Friends” are three Putting It Together returnees.
It’s also not that you haven’t heard virtually every one of these Sondheim gems many times before, though I’m guessing that 16-year-old Stevie’s first (1946’s “I’ll Meet You At The Donut”), his “Take Me To The World” (written two decades later for an ABC TV special), or “Smile, Girls” (cut from Gypsy after just one preview performance) won’t be ringing any bells.
What takes Sondheim On Sondheim up a level from what would already be a terrifically entertaining evening of songs performed by some of L.A.’s finest talents are the anecdotes Sondheim recounts (video created and designed by Peter Flaherty) about his life, family, friends, and most importantly, about the writing of the songs we’ve come to know so well.
Seeing and hearing Stephen Sondheim discuss the evolution of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum’s show opener (which many of us probably assume has always been “Comedy Tonight”) or inform us that Company didn’t always end with Bobby’s gut-wrenching “Being Alive” are almost worth the price of admission (or certainly worth purchasing the Original Broadway Cast CD with its all-Broadway-star cast).
Though not household names like that recording’s Vanessa Williams, Norm Lewis, or the legendary Barbara Cook, Southland triple-threats Stephanie Fredricks, Barbara Carlton Heart, Shaina Knox, Kevin McMahon, Jake Novak and Josh Wise more than hold their own against their better known counterparts.
Diversity may not be the word for the ICT sextet, but talent most certainly is, and with DJ Gray doing some inspired direction and choreography (it turns out that Sondheim On Sondheim is a surprisingly dancy show), all six deliver powerhouse performances.
The always dynamic stage vet McMahon brings down the house with “Being Alive” and follows it with an exquisite “Finishing The Hat.” Wise (tall, blond, and handsome) shows off a powerful baritone as a very young Sweeney Todd in “Epiphany.” Nerdy-cute and charming, Novak earns quite possibly the evening’s loudest cheers for his show-stoppingly manic “Franklin Shepard, Inc.”
The deliciously divine Fredricks impresses vocally with “Good Thing Going” and “Ah, but Underneath,” the elegant Heart sings an achingly lovely “Loving You,” “In Buddy’s Eyes,” and “Send In The Clowns,” and the two together perform some torch song sorcery juxtaposing “Not A Day Goes By” and “Losing My Mind.” As for Knox, expect great things ahead for the russet-haired stunner, whose “Do I Hear A Waltz” reveals a crystal clear soprano in addition to a Broadway-ready belt showcased in other numbers.
Additional highlights include the cast’s three male members doing some fancy footwork behind Fredricks in “Ah, but Underneath,” the girl-group “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” reconceived as a male-female duet (Heart and McMahon), and a powerful pair of Assassins numbers (“The Gun Song” and “Something Just Broke”) showcasing all but Heart.
Add to the above a couple dozen duets, trios, quartets and full-cast numbers like the Act One-closing “Ever After,” “A Weekend In The Country,” and “Sunday” and the grand finale of “Old Friends” and “Anyone Can Whistle” and you’ve got nearly two-and-a-half hours of Sondheim magic and memories.
Gerald Sternbach provides expert musical direction, the production’s outstanding live orchestra made up of Sternbach on piano, Jennifer Li on cello, Lisa McCormick on French horn, and Roman Solazinka on violin. (Orchestrations are by Michael Starobin, with arrangements by David Loud.)
Scenic designer Don Llewellyn keeps the set simple, the better to show off Tom Ruzika’s vivid lighting and resident Kim Deshazo’s multitude of color-coordinated costumes. Sound designer Dave Mickey provides an impeccable mix of instrumentals and amplified vocals. Resident property designers Patty, Gordon, and Christopher Briles do their accustomed topnotch work as does resident hair and wig designer Anthony Gagliardi.
Casting is by Michael Donovan Casting. Richie Ferris is casting associate. Pat Loeb is production stage manager and Joseph M. Trevino is assistant stage manager.
Sondheim On Sondheim is produced by International City Theatre artistic director caryn desai.
Nearly forty Sondheim songs packed into two abundantly entertaining acts performed by six supremely talented triple-threats—plus Sondheim himself on the centerstage big screen. What more could any musical theater lover wish for than Sondheim On Sondheim at ICT?
International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Through November 8. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 2:00. Reservations: 562 436-4610
October 22, 2015
Photos: Suzanne Mapes