The Sondheim Museum
Whenever a dinosaur of a production like Side by Side by Sondheim bumps its way across a stage, all who see it are forced to make a decision. Should they judge it on its charms -- on its music, its singing, its fun factor? Or should they judge it on its cynicism -- on the implied subtext that its audiences are neither interested in dealing nor equipped to deal with new work? Or, for that matter, with any production that might demand thinking or evaluation or response? The question is more wrenching than usual with Side by Side, because the fun factor is so large and the music so fine. Side by Side was conceived in 1978 as a Stephen Sondheim retrospective, and today it functions as a fun, funny, and fairly comprehensive overview of Sondheim´s early career. All numbers are handled by three singing actors and a singing pianist who intersperse the songs with some light analyses of Sondheim´s oeuvre. When it´s over, audiences shuffle out of the theater, telling one another how very talented and clever Sondheim is (or was). Is it a good time? Yes. Will people who see this shtick feel cheated? Nope. Sondheim is a genius, and spending an evening with his work is damned pleasant. Actors Terrell Hardcastle and Cecilia Isis Torres are solid singers and magnetic presences, and actor Anna McNeely, after decades of working on Broadway, can make whole songs turn on a look or a hook. Pianist/singer Craig D. Ames is as amiable as you could want, and he´s got a lovely, elegant touch on his instrument that can make you forget you´re hearing a reduction.