BWW Review: SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM at Kansas City Repertory Theatre
For Steven Sondheim fanatics, the 1976 musical revue "Side By Side By Sondheim" is a delicious treat to be savored. Originally meant as a one-off benefit for a struggling theatre venue in suburban London, the show looks at Sondheim's career through the mid-1970s.
KC Repertory Theatre's current interpretation of the musical revue is fun, well performed, and handsomely mounted. This excellent cast of four, experienced professionals is backed up by twin dueling grand pianos under the direction of Anthony Edwards. They do not disappoint. Eric Rosen's direction adds a welcome familiar touch without getting in the way of the material.
Producer Cameron Mackintosh (then only 30 years old) happened to be in the London benefit audience in 1976. Mackintosh (today) is the familiar producer of "LES MISERABLES," "The Phantom of the Opera," "My Fair Lady," " Mary Poppins," "Oliver!," " Miss Saigon," and "Cats" among others. Then, Mackintosh had produced only two shows. One, a 1969 version of "Anything Goes," closed in just two weeks. A second show, "The Card," struggled through 120 performances in 1973. Mackintosh took a flyer on "Side By Side By Sondheim" and was rewarded with 806 original performances, a Broadway run, a U.S. touring version, and several major revivals plus frequent regional productions.
The audience enjoys 29 musical numbers from some unexpected shows only to be topped by a closing medley of 25 more. A number of these songs will be new. They were written and eventually cut from productions in previews, but you'll find them more than worth hearing at the Spencer Theater.
The revue is structured around groups of songs from single shows (with some exceptions). All actors serve as the narrator to pieces of the production.
It's all entertaining, but the female duet from West Side Story ("A Boy Like That" and "I Have A Love) by Shanna Jones and Jenny Ashford is a show stopper conjuring up all the emotional punch of the original.
The cast includes four fine performers. Jenny Ashman hails from Alaska, but is most recently known to Kansas City audiences as Eva Peron in the KC Rep production of "Evita." Shanna Jones is a Kansas City favorite performer. Audiences will remember her from "The Santaland Diaries," and from her memorable participation in Eric Rosen's "Hair Retrospection." Orville Mendoza returns to KC Rep with dozens of credits including "Peter and the Starcatcher" and "Pacific Overtures" on Broadway. Oliver Thornton hails from London's West End having played iconic characters from a huge selection of shows including Raoul from "Phantom of the Opera," and Enjoiras in "Les Miz."
The ensemble takes the stage with the opener from the farcical "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum." The range of Sondheim from "Forum," to "West Side Story," to "Gypsy," to "A Little Night Music," to "Company," to "Follies," " Anyone Can Whistle," to "Pacific Overtures," and even more.
At age 86, Steven Sondheim is the senior, living, American maestro of the American musical theater. Even up until 1976 Sondheim's body of work was already massive. It does not take into account any of the narrative pieces written later in his long career that we know him best for in "Sweeny Todd," "Sunday In the Park With George, "Into The Woods," or "Assassins."
"Side By Side By Sondheim" continues through February 19 at the Spencer Theater. Tickets are available at the box office, online at KCREP.org or by telephone at 816-235-2700.
Photo by Cory Weaver and Courtesy of Kansas City Repertory Theatre