SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM: A Musical Love Fest
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
Richmond Triangle Players
At: The Robert B Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Avenue, RVA 23230
Performances: August 8 – September 1, 2018
Ticket Prices: $10-30
Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org
I generally get to new shows during the first week, but Sondheim on Sondheim opened while I was away on our annual family vacation, and shortly after returning I went into the hospital for a knee replacement. Much to my surprise, I had no pain after surgery, so I found myself tiptoeing into RTP with crutches in the middle of a rainstorm on closing night. I am SO glad I got a chance to see this show.
The night I attended was also a popular night for many industry professionals, at least one of whom wept openly during a particularly touching number. Sondheim on Sondheim (with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, conceived and directed on Broadway by James Lapine) is not at all what I expected from a musical – but it is what I have come to expect from Richmond Triangle Players, which is not above bringing even a reviewer to tears on occasion.
This autobiographical musical features about 40 – yes FORTY – musical numbers, and a stellar cast of eight, each of whom had a chance to shine in at least one song. Frank Foster’s set reminded me of a museum exhibit, with its three slim columns, each holding a memento of Stephen Sondheim’s life and career, some notes, and a light. There were posters from Sondheim’s many productions, and a screen where we got to see and hear the man himself talk about his work and share heartbreaking memories of his childhood. Talk about dysfunctional! Now that it’s over, it won’t be spoiler to say that his mother once sent him a note telling him that her only regret in life was giving birth to him!
While I cannot say that I love every song or even every play he ever worked on (and no, I have not seen all of them), I can honestly say that I am so glad he overcame the seemingly impossible obstacles in his life to leave us with a legacy of musical theater that includes a range of such diverse works that have earned him 8 Tony awards, 8 Grammy awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Laurence Olivier award, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. As a composer and lyricist, who is NOT known for hummable tunes, he left his mark on West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Merrily WE Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Assassins, and many others.
Standouts of the evening included Durron Tyre singing Being Alive and Susan Sanford’s rendition of Send in the Clowns. Then there was Alona Metcalf (Do I Hear a Waltz) and Dan Cimo, Matt Polson, and Rachel Rose Gilmour (Franklin Shepard, Inc.), and the entire company, including Mariah Mazyck, and Scott Melton) in Weekend in the Country, Sunday, and the finale Company – Old Friends and Anyone Can Whistle.
I call it a love fest not only because the audience was so vocal in its enthusiasm and praise, but also because the entire cast seemed to so thoroughly enjoy this often challenging work. In addition to Sondheim’s pitiful family life, we also learned of his life-saving friendship with Oscar Hammerstein and his family and heard his thoughts on his life’s work. Assassins came closest to meeting the writers’ vision, and Sunday in the Park with George was the closest to his own heart, while he didn’t much care for Do I Hear a Waltz.
With direction and vocal coaching by Doug Schneider, and musical direction by Kim Fox (I think she said there are several books and more than 400 pages of music!), all the elements just seemed to come together flawlessly. Sheila Ross designed the costumes, Michael Jarett did the lighting and projections, with video by Peter Flaherty, sound design by Joey Luck, and choreography by Emily Dandridge. What a delightful start to this theater’s 26th season!
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: John MacLellan