Side by Side by Sondheim, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Review

Side by Side by Sondheim, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Review

Kansas City, MO – infoZine – This musical tribute to Stephen Sondheim provides a welcome respite for the serious issues in the news, on the screen – both silver and TV – and even on stage. There is no plot and there are no characters, as such. Jenny Ashman, Shanna Jones, Orville Mendoza and Oliver Thornton are themselves but inhabit the character of each of the shows 30 songs (give or take).

And another hundred people just got off of the train.

And it’s not all “comedy tonight.” Spanning Sondheim’s career from the 1950s to the 1970s, the songs portray the ups and downs and the ins and outs of relationships. Sometimes the entire cast is involved, as in the opener, “Comedy Tonight”/”Love Is in the Air,” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Other songs are solo performances, ranging from, well, comedy to tragedy, with no little amount of pathos in between.

cast photo
L-R: Daniel Doss, Jenny Ashman, Shanna Jones, Orville Mendoza, Oliver Thornton. Photo courtesy of KC Rep.

Shanna Jones’ antic persona shines in her rapid-fire singing of “Getting Married Today” (she’s emphatically not!). In a similar vein, Oliver Thornton asked us to wish him luck before launching into the intro to ”Pretty Lady,” a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” from The Pirates of Penzance. (He didn’t really need our help.)

There is some gender-bending, such as Oliver Mendoza’s simultaneously sad and funny take on the role of Phyllis, in Follies, singing “Could I Leave You?”

Thornton delivers a heartfelt “Send in the Clowns.” Beforehand, he explains that this very popular song, from A Little Night Music, is one of the most misunderstood. And he’s right. Seen in context, the meaning is clear. Whether you have seen the play or not, “Clowns” is still moving.

In “Broadway Baby,” a song about the vagaries of reaching for that star on Broadway, Jenny Ashman’s performance is at once poignant and funny. Tragicomic. At first she’s flat on the floor almost under the piano. As she stands up, she is obviously falling-down drunk. Somehow, though, as the song progresses Ashman conveys that she may also be weak from missing a few too many meals.

And another hundred people just got off of the train. With “Another Hundred People,” Ashman, via Sondheim, puts us smack in the middle of crowded New York City. We can feel the pulse, the rush, the community and loneliness. And another hundred people just got off of the train.

Jack Magaw’s lurid gold proscenium arches and deep red velour curtain hearken to an earlier time. It puts us in a much smaller space than the Rep’s Spencer Theatre that feels more like maybe the Folly or an even more intimate cabaret, maybe like Quality Hill Playhouse. Even up close, the sound could have been more, ah, forceful. This is crucial because the voices carry the show. It’s all about the words and songs. There is no orchestra or band. The musicians are pianists Anthony T. Edwards (conductor) and Daniel Doss. Their excellent playing gave the cast plenty of vocal space, and I wish the sound designer, Alex Hawthorn, had taken more advantage of that to play to the back of the house. Or maybe I played in rock and roll bands for too many years.

Songs were often accompanied by visuals from the original performances, including posters and photos. Hearing Sondheim’s music made me wish we could see those shows in their entirety. This tribute and review was a great reminder.

And another hundred people just got off of the train.

Side by Side by Sondheim
Music and lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Eric Rosen
At: Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Ends: February 18


Published at Mon, 06 Feb 2017 15:24:24 +0000

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