Home Artistic creation Theater Review: Gallery Players ‘Sondheim on Sondheim’ Mesmerizing

Theater Review: Gallery Players ‘Sondheim on Sondheim’ Mesmerizing


Stephen Sondheim, who has done so much to revolutionize musical theater as a form, has been the subject of many reviews – I grew up recording Side by side near Sondheim – but I have never seen one as strong as Sondheim on Sondheimcreated by frequent collaborator James Lapine and set to a vibrant, loving production directed by Bill Goldsmith and music directed by Allan Finkelstein.

Punctuated with witty and incisive filmed interviews and photographs of Sondheim himself, an outstanding 10-person cast dives through a combination of classics, deep cuts and songs that didn’t make the original cut for various shows: Deborah Chow-Brennan, Alexa Clint, Corinne Gorgas, Andrew LeVan, William Macke, Nicholas McInturff, Matthew Phillips, Patrick Schaefer, Alex Seifert and Nancy Skaggs.

The structure of the show, with a lounge set up on one side of the stage and a mid-century modern bar on the other (designed by Katherine Wexler), and the charming interaction between the actors – even though we’re not singing actively, we see them actively listening, the smiles spread as one of their fellow actors leans into a dazzling stroke or intricate harmony – helps bring back what is often thought of a rarefied catalog, words from above by a composer high on a Mount Olympus for most of us, down to earth.

Goldsmith and his cast balance razor-sharp execution with a sense of ease and player which mirrors the chuckling, borderline self-deprecating composer hovering over the action. They achieve a sense of dialogue that I could not have imagined before entering the theater. This meaning also reflects Sondheim’s warmth for his collaborators and friends, and how musical theater – especially his musical theater – is a collaborative art.

Songs every fan knows rub and ignite against things we haven’t heard – two alternate openings for A funny thing happened on the way to the forum“Forget War” and “Love is in the Air”, play against “Comedy Tonight” with a sense of Of course. Multiple alternate endings for Company, “Multitudes of Amys” and “Happily Ever After” provide the key – along with some savvy advice – for “Being Alive.” Sondheim on Sondheim juxtaposes “Something’s Coming”, a signature hit from West Side Story, with a song by road show which I don’t believe ever received a full run.

The show also does a great job of highlighting themes that recur throughout 50 years of his work. “Losing Your Mind” Follies mingles with “Not a Day Goes By” by We ride happily. “Smile, Girls”, a great game that was cut from Gypsy because it stopped history in its tracks, sparks against the more direct hymn to the joy and pain of artistic creation “Finishing the Hat” of Sunday in the park with George.

Some of the pleasures I’ve detailed above include the consistency of the cast and the quality of the consistency of all of their voices. I didn’t call specific performances because one of the great joys for me was watching actors that I never seen on stage, or maybe seen once, hold their own with people whose work, particularly whose work with Sondheim, I’ve been known to love, like William Macke and Nancy Skaggs. This, coupled with the lack of photographs in the digital poster, made me concerned that confirmation bias was leading me to highlight people I knew because I was confident I wouldn’t mistakenly identify them, but everyone here is good.

There were some minor amplification issues which were fixed in the second act, but I went out on Saturday night floating after seeing this. I probably talked about Sondheim on Sondheim for over an hour, both with my partner who joined me at the show, and with other friends who crossed our orbit. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a clear and pleasing look at a specific artistic process.

Sondheim on Sondheim runs until March 27 with performances at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more information, visit columbusjcc.org/gallery-players.