BWW Review: Scottsdale Musical Theater Company's SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM Is A Rich Portrait OF The Artist As An Evolving Soul

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There is one major problem with Scottsdale Musical Theater Company's production of SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM and it is its limited engagement.

Three performances in a single weekend just ain't enough for a show that involves the technical sophistication of synchronizing videos of Sondheim recollections, forty choreographed vignettes, and live orchestra (conducted by Kevin Hayward) ~ and for a company that does it so very well and deserves to be seen and applauded.

More folks ought to have more of an opportunity to see the Arizona Premiere of this well-staged and well-sung revue of one of Broadway's most prolific and cherished songwriters. If any group could grab the rights to this tribute, which opened on Broadway in 2010, it's fortunate that SMTC did, because the company, with a solid track record of well-crafted musicals, has done Stephen Sondheim proud.

Directed by Hector Coris, who, given his chops as both a performer and a director, understands the musical form as well as anybody, has smartly matched his eight talented crooners with the music. Nicole Bond, Alex Crossland, Chelsea Janzen, Marina Blue Jarrette, Curtis Moeller, Lindsay Newhard, Matt Newhard, and Michael Schauble take their cues from Sondheim-on-tape and lovingly sing and dance their way through some of his most memorable tunes.

As an ensemble, they set the tone with the show's opening and distinctively different numbers, Invocation and Comedy Tonight. From there, each enjoys his or her own special moment on stage.

There are, naturally, some exceptional moments.

Matt Newhard,whose stage presence and vocals are equally and consistently rich, provides a number of them, most notably his take on sinister Sweeney Todd's Epiphany.

Nicole Bond shines throughout the production and her renditions of Take Me to the World and Loving You are heartfelt and deeply touching reveries.

Michael Schauble rocks the stage with a witty and muscular turn in Franklin Shepard, Inc.

Of course, it is Sondheim's remarkably candid reflections, captured in Peter Flaherty's masterful collage video, that are the tapestry through which this weave of songs are wound. They are as broad and deep as the range of his compositions and reveal the mind, heart, and soul that have been the wellspring of his genius. He recounts his upbringing ~ the unwanted child of a self-absorbed socialite whose fortuitous introduction to Oscar Hammerstein gave Sondheim his chief and beloved mentor. He speaks of the collaborations with Broadway's other geniuses, that framed his work. He opines on his life choices, successes, failures, and rewrites. He invites us into his inner sanctum where, lying back on his couch, with lead pencil and legal pad and shot of vodka, he puts his muse to work. In footage from TV interviews, he shares his artistic vision and creative method.

In the end, SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, conceived by James Lapine, one of his great collaborators, is a unique revelatory journey and a treasure chest of insights.

As the ensemble closes with Anyone Can Whistle and Sondheim wraps up his self-portrait, I cannot help but be reminded of the lines from the opening number, Invocation:

"Gods of the theatre, smile on us. You who sit up there stern in judgment. Smile on us...We offer you song and dance. We offer you rites and revels. We offer you grace and beauty. Smile on us for this while."

Well, I'm no god, just a reviewer, but I can agree to a very broad smile for Scottsdale Musical Theater Company's production of SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM and declare unequivocally that its cast and crew have smiled upon its audience for this while.

SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM continues its limited but delightful engagement through October 31st at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Photo credit to Scottsdale Musical Theater Company

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From This Author Herbert Paine