SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM by Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers and Jule Styne, directed by Michael Rubinoff, with David Nevin, Jessica Sherman, Tanya Turner and Rubinoff. Presented by Rubinoff at the Poor Alex (296 Brunswick). Runs to May 17, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2 pm. $20-$25, Thursday discount. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNN
nobody's written more intelli- gent, entertaining musical theatre over the past half-century than Stephen Sondheim. A 70s pastiche drawn from his early work - sometimes he wrote lyrics for others' tunes, sometimes both words and music - Side By Side By Sondheim is a reminder of his talent even in a fitfully successful production.
There's lots to enjoy in Michael Rubinoff's version, including lyrics delivered clearly by good voices that harmonize well together. David Nevin, Jessica Sherman and Tanya Turner win us over early on with their melody-making. Turner uses her full soprano well, and Nevin is best in declamatory material that doesn't have nuanced emotional subtext. But has he been directed to take literally the line from Gypsy, "Sing out, Louise"? He could turn down his volume in the small Poor Alex.
It's Sherman who knows best how to mould a miniature drama out of her songs, from the naive comedy of The Boy From and the sensual double entendres of I Never Do Anything Twice to the gutsy, illusion-free I'm Still Here and Sondheim's most famous song, the bittersweet, ironic Send In The Clowns.
What fall flat, though, are Rubinoff's onstage contributions. His direction ranges from ordinary to overdone, while he's too stiff and one-note as narrator to provide appetite-whetting intros to the material. I appreciate his efforts to reinvigorate midsize musical theatre in Toronto, but I wish he'd limit himself to playing producer behind the scenes.