Review: “Side by Side by Sondheim” in Sonoma

Lovers of musical theatre in general and the works of Stephen Sondheim in particular would do well to head out to Sonoma and catch Sonoma Arts Live’s Side by Side by Sondheim. The musical revue runs on the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall through May 7.

Like most musical revues, there’s not much of a plot. Four musical theatre artists (Dani Beem, Jonathen Blue, Alexei Ryan, and Maeve Smith) gather in a Manhattan apartment for cocktails and song. That’s it.

As the show was originally produced in 1976, the material consists of Sondheim’s early works beginning with his work as a lyricist on shows like West Side Story and Gypsy and running through his 1970’s triumphs as composer/lyricist with shows like Company, Follies, and A Little Night Music.  Fans expecting songs from shows like Sweeney Todd or Into the Woods will have to wait for an updated sequel.

Set in an upscale NY apartment – the kind of apartment where two pianos would be the norm – four unnamed individuals enter to the tune of “Comedy Tonight” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and the show is off and running.  

Dani Beem, Alexei Ryan, Maeve Smith, Jonathen Blue

An on-stage narrator (Rick Love) provides some background information for each number which is helpful as the song list includes several numbers cut from shows as well as some of Sondheim’s lesser-known film and television work.  

Director Andrew Smith has a perfect cast of four delivering the oft-challenging Sondheim material. Each shine with their solo work while gelling perfectly in the ensemble numbers. Highlights include Maeve Smith’s harried rendition of “Getting Married Today” from Company, Alexei Ryan’s beautiful delivery of “I Remember” from Evening Primrose (a rarely-seen 1966 television production), Jonathen Blue’s moving delivery of “Being Alive” from Company, and Dani Beem’s beautifully understated reprisal of her work in a recent production of A Little Night Music with “Send in the Clowns”.   

The tone is lightened with some wonderful comedic numbers including “The Boy from…” which Sondheim anonymously contributed to The Mad Show (a musical revue based on Mad magazine!) and “Can That Boy Foxtrot!” which was cut from Follies.  

Those two on-stage pianos are used by musical director Ellen Patterson and pianist Sergio Cabada to provide the lively musical accompaniment for the singers.

Two hours in the company of four talented performers doing the work of one of the giants of American musical theatre makes for a very pleasant evening or afternoon’s entertainment.

Side by Side by Sondheim’ runs through May 7 on the Rotary Stage at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Thurs-Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm, $25–$42. 707.484.4874

Photos by Miller Oberlin

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