SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM – Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by James Lapine; Directed by Bernie Cardell; Musical Direction by Rob Lowe. Produced by Cherry Creek Theatre (Presented at the Pluss Theatre, Mizel Center at 350 South Dahlia, Denver) through November 19. Tickets available at 303-710-8454 or CherryCreekTheatre.org.
A jukebox musical will always “just” be a jukebox musical to some people. You can dress them up with a story either real (as in BEAUTIFUL and JERSEY BOYS) or fictional (like MAMA MIA or FOREVER PLAID). Or you can just relax and sing the music (like MY WAY or RING OF FIRE). But long-time Sondheim collaborator James Lapine had the right idea when he decided to put together a show about Sondheim using his own words . . . literally.
The sparkling music of Sondheim is presented by a cast of eight equally talented singers and one really good piano player. But interspersed between the musical numbers are short clips of film featuring Sondheim himself talking about his life, his career through the years, an explanation of how he works, his fondest memories, and his writing philosophy. This added charm and authenticity to the whole production, as well as a little education on how a musical is conceived and grows. Putting it together, you might say.
Opening the program and glancing through the voluminous list of songs to be included in the evening’s entertainment is daunting. Forty titles are mentioned, nearly all from Sondheim’s twenty plus major works. But not to worry. Some are only snippets of songs interlaced with others into a harmonious whole. Some songs are known; others are from more obscure works or more reminiscent of early work. It was pleasant to revisit old friends from well-known shows, but also to learn new works from shows not seen. Most were given an explanation for how they fit into their play or why they were cut. But all are entertaining and well presented.
All eight singers got equal time in the spotlight. Isabelle Duran, Traci Kern, Carolyn Lohr and Susie Roelofsz made up the female contingent. The men in the songs were represented by David Kincannon, Brian Merz-Hutchinson, Lars Preece and Carter Edward Smith. Each contributed mightily to the music and the entertainment. I loved the jazzy interpretation they gave to “Something’s Coming,” from WEST SIDE STORY and Susie’s wistful rendering of “Send in the Clowns” from A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.
The lone piano player mentioned earlier is Rob Lowe (no, not that Rob Lowe), the Music Director. Special kudos belong to him and to Director Bernie Cardell for schooling the singers on this complicated score and for finding creative ways of making the evening lively, entertaining, educational, and pretty – all at the same time.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!