BWW Review: Sondheim's Storytelling Shines in Winter Park Playhouse's PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Stephen Sondheim is the greatest writer that the musical theatre has ever known. Now, obviously, intelligent minds can disagree, but if you do, I'm sorry, you're wrong. From story integration, to compelling characterizations, to insightful and witty lyrics, to complex and engaging melodies, no one has ever done it better than the man that many call "The Master." Sondheim's genius comes from the fact that every syllable he writes, and every note he composes, is in service of the story that he is telling; which is why I am always apprehensive of seeing one of the numerous revues of his work. Though he has been intimately involved in such shows as SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, MARRY ME A LITTLE, and PUTTING IT TOGETHER, which is running through May 9th at The Winter Park Playhouse, it often feels slightly disingenuous to see his songs, which fit so seamlessly amidst their original works, shoe-horned into completely contrived circumstances. Fortunately, under the direction of Roy Alan (who also choreographed), WPP's production makes each of Sondheim's beloved songs feel fresh, exciting, and (nearly) wholly original.
The remarkably talented five-person cast creates a world in which songs from shows as varied as FOLLIES, SWEENY TODD, COMPANY, ASSASSINS, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, THE FROGS, and more seem organic and cohesive. The story centers on a dinner party in which a wealthy older married couple play host, with help from their butler/bartender, to a younger couple, not nearly as far along in their relationship.
As always, it is nearly impossible not to enjoy yourself when Kevin Kelly is on stage. As the butler, the show's pseudo-narrator, he provides the audience with much-needed insight, often with nothing more than a look or a smile. His rendition of "Buddy's Blues," originally from FOLLIES, is a hilariously slap-stick showstopper.
David Thome (a veteran of nine Broadway shows) plays the dinner party's host. With a suave and confident charm, Thome's character appears to be a man that has the world at his fingertips, which unfortunately leads to the occasional wandering eye and misplaced responsibility. Despite his character's flaws, Thome's performance of "Good Thing Going" (from MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG) is equally exciting and heart-breaking.
As his frustrated and put-upon wife, Kate O'Neal is able to freely tackle some of Sondheim's most comedic, and sardonic, numbers. As her character attempts to navigate what it means to be an independent women, as well as her husband's partner, O'Neal graces the audience with thrilling performances of classics like "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" (originally from A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM) and "The Ladies Who Lunch" (from COMPANY), though the latter lacked a little of the raw intensity that made it a staple for Elaine Stritch and Patti LuPone.
The younger couple is made up of Jonathan Fadoul and Natalie Cordone. Though their relationship is secondary to that of Thome and O'Neal's, I found their moments on-stage, either together or separate, to be some of the most compelling of the night. The two share a particularly sexy Pas De Due on the song "Bang!" (from A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC), and between Fadoul's smile and Cordone's stunning looks, it is easy to see why they find it hard to keep their hands off of each other. Much like Kelly, Cordone steals nearly every scene she is in. In addition to having a fantastic voice, she has a charisma that draws your eyes to her whenever she appears on stage.
One of the most enjoyable songs of the night was "Every Day a Little Death" (also from NIGHT MUSIC), in which Cordone and O'Neal's characters size each other up. Also, Thome and Fadoul's take on "Pretty Women" (SWEENEY TODD) perhaps provided the best example of a song succeeding in a way completely detached from its original intention.
It's true that upon stringing so many of Sondheim's melodies together that The Master's musical tendencies can become apparent, and (dare I say) repetitive. However, these self-contained stories, pulled from their original shows, only serve to amplify Sondheim's remarkable skill for crafting moving, funny, and emotional moments.
There are a few songs in the show that seemed out of place, especially considering their original purpose. PUTTING IT TOGETHER's take on "Hello Little Girl" completely strips away all subtlety that makes the song so impactful in INTO THE WOODS. It is also odd that Cordone refers to Thome as "Mr. Wolf" multiple times.
Despite being repurposed and reworded, I still couldn't help but feel uncomfortable as Fadoul and Cordone expressed their feelings during "Unworthy of Your Love," knowing that the song is normally sung in ASSASSINS by insane people who attempted (and failed) to kill Presidents of the United States. However, I suppose that this is just yet another testament to how important context is to a Sondheim song.
C.J. Sikorski successfully converted the colorful, multipurpose set from A DAY IN HOLLYWOOD/A NIGHT IN THE UKRAINE into a swanky Upper-West Side apartment for PUTTING IT TOGETHER. Alan's work was brisk and taut, while giving this collection of gifted performers room to express themselves and experiment on their own.
If you are a fan of the history of musical theatre, you simply do not want to miss Winter Park Playhouse's production of PUTTING IT TOGETHER. Get your tickets by visiting their website, or by calling 407-645-0145.
Did you spend an evening with Sondheim? Let me know what you thought of PUTTING IT TOGETHER in the comments below, or by "Liking" and following BWW Orlando on Facebook and Twitter using the buttons below. You can also chat with me about the show on Twitter @BWWMatt.
1) The Cast of PUTTING IT TOGETHER: Winter Park Playhouse
2) The Cast of PUTTING IT TOGETHER: Winter Park Playhouse