by Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim himself put together this revue of his mostly lesser-known
songs as a kind of sequel to Side
by Side by Sondheim. Drawn from
his stage musicals like Sunday in
the Park with George, A Funny
Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Follies
and Company, and his movie
soundtrack to Dick Tracy, the scenario is that a middle-aged couple
whose marriage is falling apart has invited a younger couple and
another young man to a party in their Manhattan condo. In this Triptych
production, Sondheim's deeply cynical songs about love, marriage
and relationships are re-contextualized with mixed success.
I've never found his music particularly memorable, but Sondheim's
lyrics are as witty and intelligent as any ever written for the theatre.
This is evident right from the top with a song instructing the audience, "When
there's a pause, please/Lots of applause, please."
But his lyrical brilliance shines most brightly--or most darkly--in
dissecting the painful disintegration of a marriage. While the wife
reflects on her husband's narcissism--"Who can contend with
an endless erection/That falls to its knees when it sees its reflection?"--the
husband advises the younger man, "Marriage may be where it's
been/But it isn't where it's at." In the lacerating "Country
House" (from Sondheim's Follies),
husband and wife try desperately to figure out how to patch up the
marriage. Buy a country house?
("Whatever makes you happy.") See a shrink? get a dog?
adopt a child? Maybe we can take a second honeymoon, she offers.
Should be better than the first, he mutters with a smile. Act One
ends with the wife singing "Could I Leave You?" (also from
Follies): "Could I bury
my rage/With a boy half your age/In the grass?/Bet your ass!"
The second act is more of the same, with the show's best number
reserved almost for last, rendering anti-climactic the two final
songs and the surprisingly unmotivated happyish ending. "Being
Alive," from Company, has the ensemble singing individually
and in beautiful choral harmony a kind of prayer, each wondering
how their lives could have ended up like this, and invoking some
nameless deity to "make me alive."
Despite so much great stuff, many of the 36 songs fall flat due
to unremarkable scores or underwhelming performances or both. The
two women fare best. Jane Leroux as the wife has the strongest voice
and the best material, while Michelle Miazga is by far the most dynamic
performer in a non-Equity cast that seems lethargic at times, and
her best numbers--"Lovely," "More"--are among
the show's most upbeat. Kerry O'Donovan, as the unattached young
man and MC, comes alive in the Jolsonesque "Buddy's Blues," delineating
the neurotic contradictions of love ("If I'm good enough for
you/You're not good enough"). David Hinton as the husband has
a nice voice but no presence, and James Rowley often seems out of
his depth, though both do fine in the choral ensembles where the
production's weaknesses are least visible.
Despite its hit and miss quality, I recommend this show--unless
you're in the middle of a crumbling marriage.