Review: SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM at The Catherine Berges Theatre At The Center For The Creative Arts (COCA)

Now on stage at the Catherine Berges Theatre at the Center for the Creative Arts (COCA).

By: Feb. 05, 2023
Review: SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM at The Catherine Berges Theatre At The Center For The Creative Arts (COCA)
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The Rep's Side by Side by Sondheim celebrates the prodigious work of America's most prominent composer and lyricist with a cabaret-style revue that revisits many of his popular and overlooked works. An indelible piece of America's musical theatre history, Stephen Sondheim was a colossus whose work remains insurmountable in mainstream popularity.

This Tony-award-winning revue first premiered in 1976. Thus, many of his later works of subsequent decades are not included. Despite this gap, the show presents notable works from Follies, West Side Story, Company, Anyone Can Whistle, Pacific Overtures, and Gypsy.

Although Side by Side by Sondheim provides audiences with a dose of light musical entertainment, those familiar with the composer's prolific output may not be satisfied. This is because when these songs are taken out of the context of their full productions, some of the magic wanes.

To remedy this, the production employs a narrator to stitch things together. By introducing linking themes in Sondheim's work and giving smatterings of information on the composer's life, the narrator provides valuable framework in lieu of a proper narrative.

Directed by Associate Artistic Director Reggie D. White, this survey of Sondheim's career begins with the peppy Comedy Tonight. Here, the cast's foursome of singers brings plenty of energy. This liveliness ebbs and flows throughout the production.

Despite some sagging momentum, the production does have some high marks. Act one features solid numbers in I Remember and Barcelona, as well as Paul HeeSang Miller's Marry Me a Little, which is top notch.

Whilst the cast members are all talented, it is Phoenix Best who rises to the top. Simply put, she kills it. Her zesty stage presence and powerful voice shine brightest with Send in the Clowns.

Her duet with Amy Spanger, Can That Boy Foxtrot, a number that was eventually dropped from Follies, is filled with feisty fun. Spanger's Losing My Mind in the latter half of act two is also exceptional.

Alan Knoll's performance as the narrator is sublime. His droll humor, sly mix of one-liners and informative exposition underpin the production. Convivial and hilarious, he helps the show pick up the pace when it is most needed.

The pizzazz of the ensemble is unmistakable. Despite some toe tapping numbers and wonderful singing, Side by Side by Sondheim needs a little more oomph to free it from the musical's outdated nature. Part cabaret, part 1970s era variety show, The Rep's 2023 opener is enjoyable theater presented by a talented cast and musicians.

Side by Side by Sondheim runs through February 19th at the Catherine Berges Theatre at the Center for the Creative Arts (COCA). For more information, visit https://www.repstl.org/




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