SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM by Stephen Sondheim and others, directed by Eda Holmes, musical direction by Paul Sportelli, with Dan Chameroy, Mary Ann McDonald, Julain Molnar and Jay Turvey. Presented by CanStage at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). Runs to December 18, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $36-$80, some Monday pwyc and rush. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Canstage's Side By Side By Sondheim is a mosaic whose individual segments draw your attention; the whole, though, is less than the sum of its parts.
The revue pieces together musical and film songs by the great Stephen Sondheim written up to 1976 - before he wrote Sweeney Todd, Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods and other award-winning shows. It strings together several dozen numbers, organizing them at times thematically, at times by show.
Most have both music and lyrics by Sondheim, while for a few he contributed words to melodies by Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers and Jule Styne.
The talented quartet of singers, stylishly accompanied by musical director Paul Sportelli and fellow pianist Ryan De Souza , capture what makes Sondheim unique: the clever, catchy lyrics, intricate melodies alternating with simple, heartfelt tunes, an understanding of both the difficulties and joys of connecting with others.
Mary Ann McDonald 's usually given the songs for the knowing, worldly-wise woman, while Julain Molnar is the still-learning innocent. The men, Dan Chameroy and Jay Turvey , cover a range of characters. Turvey does his best work with ballads like I Remember and Being Alive, while McDonald shines in comic works like the double-entendred I Never Do Anything Twice and the ultimately indomitable I'm Still Here. All four perform numbers that stand as little dramatic gems, encapsulating a powerful story and an equally strong emotion or mood.
But director Eda Holmes goes off base in organizing the show. Some songs are fussily staged, while others have needlessly cutesy bits of business. The narration between songs, updated by Morwyn Brebner from Ned Sherrin 's original, can be coy, and there's a heavy-handed quality to its delivery.
The show marks a rare misstep for the talented Holmes and Brebner, superb collaborators whose work I've applauded. Here, their efforts simply fail to gel; it's almost as if they don't trust the material.
Go see the show for the wonderful music, the complex lyrics, the myriad moods that Sondheim paints. It's best, though, to focus on individual moments rather than the bigger picture.