If you read me regularly, you know that I love the work of Stephen Sondheim. His musicals are by far ones that hold a place in my heart and his lyrics show just how smart this man is. Shows like “A Funny Thing happened on the Way to The Forum”, “West Side Story”, “Sunday in the Park with George”, “Company”, “Passion”, “A Little Night Music”. “Gypsy” and on and on- what a history in the world of Musical Theater! While his musicals are well respected and adored by his fans, many of us know very little about how he became what he became, and thus, “Sondheim on Sondheim” was born.
Conceived and written by James Lapine, who was one of his strongest collaborators, with music and lyrics by none other than Stephen Sondheim himself, this special musical entertainment is what might be called the “Legacy of Stephen Sondheim. A man and his music!”. Two hours plus of sheer elegance as performed on the stage at Stage 773 on Belmont Ave. by Porchlight Music Theatre Company.
Directed by Nick Bowling, who seems to be drifting more into the musical arena of late (and doing so with style and class, might I add) with musical direction by the amazing Austin Cook, this is a production that is so worth seeing, even if you are not a Sondheim fan, that I feel sad for the many theater patrons of Chicago who will not get a chance to see this strikingly beautiful entertainment experience as it is only scheduled to run through March 15th.
Bowling has assembled a great mix of performers, four men, four women, of different ethnic backgrounds , ages and types, but all sharing a love of the man who they share the stage with, Stephen Sondheim. This is his legacy and he is there in spirit through the videos that are projected between the songs that are performed during this telling of his life story. This piece could be called the complete catalog of Sondheim’s career, although I for one hope to get a few more musicals out of this man who has dedicated his life to learning and teaching the world what good musicals should be. This wordsmith who can mingle words that appear not to fit together, add his slick tunes and voila, a memorable song takes on a life of its own.
Just think about the actors who live to do his works. Shows like “Sweeney Todd”, “Road Show”, “Into The Woods” (recently released as a movie), “Follies”, “Merrily We Roll Along” and one that many have never seen (but those who have, adore) “Assassins”. Wow! What a songbook! What a voice in the world of Musical Theater! How wonderful that Bowling has brought this script to Chicago and that his cast of voices, led by Rebecca Finnegan, Adrienne Walker, Amelia Hefferon and Emily Berman along with the powerful voice of James Earl Jones II, Matthew Keffer, Yando Lopez and Stephen Rader and the sheer magic of Austin Cook at the piano shows the feeling that the creator took from yellow legal pad to the stage. Doesn’t get any better!
The set (Jeffrey D. Kmiec) is stately and allows for the great projections (Peter Flaherty and Mike Tutaj do an extraordinary job) to never interfere with the action. The lighting (Nick Belley) and sound (Christopher M LaPorte) and the props (Chris Tisone) all add to the glamour of this special entertainment presentation. The costumes (Sally Dolembo) might have been a little stronger, but realizing that the show runs two hours and 20 minutes, costume changes might have become a problem. I rather enjoy the briskness in which some 39 songs were brought to this intimate space. Emily Ariel Rodgers’ choreography was striking and while there were no major dance numbers in this ensemble piece, the smoothness of her routines was very “Sondheim” in spirit and feeling. All the pieces of this one fit. Watching the evening unfold, I can honestly say that this may have been one of Porchlight’s best productions and I know that Austin Cook’s performance is worthy of a special repeat Jeff Award. Watching him on the stage is a true experience.
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Thursday, March 12th a 1 p.m. matinée instead of the evening.
Tickets range from $39- $45 and are available at the box office, located at 1225 W. Belmont, by phone at 773-777-9884 or online at www.porchlightmusictheatre.org
Valet parking is available. Street parking can be found, some metered, some not.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Sondheim on Sondheim”. Don’t miss this one!