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In the Eternal Glow of Stephen Sondheim

Jordan Wright
Special to The Alexandria Times
May 10, 2011

 

 

Nancy Anderson, Sherri L. Edelen and Matthew Scott star in Signature Theatre's production of the 1976 musical revue Side by Side by Sondheim. Playing through June 12, 2011. Photo credit Scott Suchman.

Nancy Anderson, Sherri L. Edelen and Matthew Scott star in Signature Theatre's production of the 1976 musical revue Side by Side by Sondheim. Playing through June 12, 2011. Photo credit Scott Suchman.

Where were you when you first heard “Send in the Clowns”?  What about  “Something’s Coming” or “I Have a Love” from West Side Story?  We all have powerful first-time memories of hearing the music of Stephen Sondheim.  What are yours?

 

 

 

I was in The National Hotel in Frenchtown, NJ, just across the Delaware from Bucks County, PA, when owner Claiborne Cary, sister of Cloris Leachman and show biz star in her own right, brought her guests to tears with “Send in the Clowns”, one of Sondheim’s classics from A Little Night Music. That was in the early ‘70’s when the show was hot and before every two-bit lounge singer had crucified it.

 

On Broadway in 1957 I saw Chita Rivera as Anita and Carol Lawrence as Maria tear up the house with “I Have a Love” and “Something’s Coming” in West Side Story.  I was sitting with my family on the left side of the house a few rows back.  We bought the cast album that night and I remember gazing at its bright red cover with a black and white overlay of Maria leading Tony triumphantly through the streets of New York.  I went home with a burning desire to be Puerto Rican as I danced and sang my way around the house to its soaring melodies.  Most people attributed the show solely to Leonard Bernstein who wrote the music.  But it was Sondheim who penned the lyrics that altered history and brought new awareness to the nation’s Latino immigrants.

On Broadway in 1959 Ethel Merman debuted in Gypsy. I wondered how a singer could get away with singing so brashly.  I vowed to project more.  In the original production the offer by producer David Merrick to write the lyrics was rejected by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, when Sondheim got the call.  Apparently, as the evening’s narrator tells it, Merman said, “The young man can stick around to write the lyrics.”   The rest is history….

Signature Theatre’s current revival of Side by Side by Sondheim, the revue that features the composer/lyricist’s timeless hits in the period between 1957 through 1976 (before Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd) affords the theatre-lover the opportunity to luxuriate in some of the greatest show tunes ever written.  It is a time capsule of the period some say was one of the most triumphant eras on Broadway.

Three singers and two piano accompanists, Resident Music Director, Jon Kalbfleisch, and Gabriel Mangiante, relate in words and music the early career of Stephen Sondheim.  From his clumsy efforts at age 32 when he submitted his first musical to Bucks County neighbor, Oscar Hammerstein – who told him in no uncertain terms that it stunk, but, oh by the way, he did have talent, and then went on to give him a master class in writing musicals – to his ultimate collaborations with Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, Richard and Mary Rodgers and Jule Styne, the British-born composer with whom he co-wrote Gypsy.

Imagine A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum without “A Comedy Tonight” as its opening song.  See you can’t!  But another tune was written for the show and later tossed out.  Who knew?  It was called “Love Is In the Air” and here it is woven into the first act.

All in all the brilliantly talented singers, Nancy Anderson, Sherri L. Edelen and Matthew Scott do a bang-up job of hoofing, styling and singing their faces off for a total of 30 Sondheim masterpieces.  Look for Edelen’s vampy rendition of “I Never Do Anything Twice”, from The Seven Percent Solution, Anderson’s double-time rendition of “The Boy From…” from The Mad Show, and the trio’s pastiche form of the Andrews Sisters in “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from Company to fire up the audience.

At Signature Theatre through June 12th.  For tickets and information call Ticketmaster at 703 573-SEAT or go to www.signature-theatre.org.

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