Monday, January 18, 2016

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Presents "Sondheim On Sondheim" - The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum of Its Parts

I came on Sunday to the Lyric Stage Company of Boston with high expectations about "Sondheim On Sondheim." My hopes were sky high for two main reasons: I love the music of Stephen Sondheim, and the Lyric almost always delivers on its promise of great productions.  I expected to be enchanted by a revue of songs from shows that Sondheim has written or contributed to, including a few new ones that had been cut from the Broadway shows.  I got much more than I had bargained for.  The whole was indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

In a show conceived by the brilliant Sondheim collaborator James Lapine and Directed masterfully by the Lyric's Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, each of the songs presented had been carefully lifted out of its original show and narrative context.  And then that sang was lovingly reinserted into a narrative that included projected images of Sondheim commenting upon his own life, his creative process and the influences that impacted how he developed as an artist.  The resulting effect, if I may borrow a metaphor from "Sunday In The Park With George," was that each song added a brush stroke, a fleck of color, to the finishing of the hat that has been Sondheim's remarkable career.  I had arrived expecting to be entertained.  I walked away having been deeply touched and profoundly moved.

Choreography and Musical Staging by Ilyse Robbins, Scenic Design by David Towlun, Costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley, Lighting by Chris Huacs, Projections by Seaghan McKay and Sound by Andrew Duncan Will all added to the magic of this show.

Building upon Sondheim's compositions were Orchestrations by Michael Starobin and Arrangements by David Loud, with Music Director Jonathan Goldberg leading a live seven-piece orchestra that captured every nuance of Sondheim's sometimes eccentric rhythms, lush harmonies and scintillating tensions.  Mr. Veloudos cast eight of Boston's finest voices and actors to add their person albrush strokes to the Sondheim portrait that was being painted before our ours.
  • Leigh Barrett stood out in "Losing My Mind" and "Buddy's Eyes" from "Merrily We Roll Along."
  • Mala Bhattacharya's gorgeous soprano voice soared in "Take Me To The World" from "Evening Primrose."
  • Maritza Bostic reminded us of why she leaped into the first rank of Boston performers as Little Red Riding Hood in the Lyric's memorable "Into The Woods."  She offered up a brief snippet from that show, and then anchored several of the ensemble numbers with her vibrant voice and irrepressible energy.
  • Christopher Chew reached back for his "Sweeney Todd" with the haunting "Epiphany" from that gruesome tale.
  • Aimee Doherty was her usual gorgeous and vivacious self, having fun in the seldom heard "Ah, But Underneath" from "Follies." She and Ms. Barrett dished up a heart-rending medley of "Losing My Mind" from "Follies" and "Not A Day Goes By" from "Merrily We Roll Along."
  • Davron S. Monroe stood out in his solo contribution to "Being Alive" from "Company."
  • Sam Simahk's lilting tenor was shimmering in "Multitudes of Amy," a song that was cut from "Company." He showed his dramatic range in the angry rant of "Franklin Shepherd, Inc." from "Merrily We Roll Along."
  • Patrick Varner was strong throughout, presenting a dashing and menacing John Wilkes Booth in "Gun Song" from "Assassins."
Davron S. Monroe, Maritza Bostic
Mala Battacharya, Amy Doherty
Sam Simahk, Patrick Varner, 
Leigh Barrett, Christopher Chew 
Projection of Stephen Sondheim at the keyboard
"Sondheim On Sondheim"
Lyric Stage of Boston
Through February 21st
Photo by Mark S. Howard

As impressive as were the solo numbers, it was the ensemble pieces that I can still hear reverberating in my brain.  The blend of the voices finding just the right Sondheim sound was so pure that it often gave me chills and brought me to the point of tears.  Particularly moving were the lush harmonies of "Sunday" in closing Act One.  Another ensemble highlight was "Children Will Listen" from "Into The Woods," made even more poignant that usual, for it came on the heels of Sondheim having recounted a particularly hurtful thing that his mother had said to him.

This production not only finishes the hat, it puts a feather in it and waves it in a deep bow of homage to the theater god who is Stephen Sondheim. If you love Sondheim, you will not want to miss this show.  If you are new to his complex musical wizardry, this would be a wonderful introduction to his world and to his art.



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