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Side by Side by Sondheim
Signature's current space — is a wonderfully intimate 270-seat theater. It's perfect for a cabaret-like evening of Sondheim songs since every deliciously witty word is audible and every expression visible.
Side by Side is sung by a very strong trio of voices: Nancy Anderson, Sherri L. Edelen and particularly Matthew Scott , who sings and dances with a sexy finesse, delivering pathos as smoothly as humor. Admittedly his closing solo, "Being Alive," from Company is a faultless song but Scott's rendition exposes nuances that might have been missed previously. His imitation of Laverne, one of the Andrews Sisters, is highly amusing as is his Chaplinesque dance in "You Gotta Have A Gimmick" from Gypsy.
Nancy Anderson, a wisp of a young woman, has tremendous range in terms of character — from the not-so-bright flight attendant in "Barcelona" in Company to the anthem for all musical theater performers, "Broadway Baby," from Follies, to which she added a nice soft shoe. Anderson's "The Boy From. . ." a surprisingly little-known joke solo from The Mad Show , about the pronunciation of foreign place names, is one of the evening's many highlights.
Sherri L. Edelen, who has given many fine performances in Sondheim musicals at Signature, is uneven this time around. Her "Send In The Clowns," from A Little Night Music, delivered calmly and with thoughtfulness is sheer pleasure as is her tough broad approach to "I'm Still Here," from Follies. But she overplays the sass by mugging and using gestures that border on lewd in songs whose lyrics speak eloquently enough for themselves, particularly the already mentioned"I Never Do Anything Twice."
Under director/choreographer Matthew Gardner, pianists Jon Kalbfleisch and Gabriel Mangiante added greatly to the pleasure of the evening, both in their playing and in their asides. Misha Kachman's set created the perfect backdrop for the stories-in-song. Besides being decorated with scattered sheets of music and lyrics, it features black mylar strips to frame a proscenium arch with show bizzy dressing room light bulbs. Less noteworthy are Kathleen Geldard's unflatteringcostumes. Matt Rowe's sound and Colin Bills's lighting, particularly the very nice touch of adding Stephen Sondheim's signature to the backdrop at both the opening and ending of the show, came through flawlessly.
"I treat lyrics as short plays whenever I can," Sondheim writes in his fascinating book Finishing the Hat, Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes. Of the 500 songs he's written only thirty are in Side by Side by Sondheim. Each is a gem but the sum of the evening is a strong desire to say "Encore"! How about another revue of, say, thirty more?
Signature's Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer who is responsible for Signature's commitment to Sondheim's musicals, is currently directing the Kennedy Center's new production of Follies running from May 7 to June 19. Sondheim's very early, very rarely performed 1954 musical about the perils of trying to get rich quick, Saturday Night , will be performed at Signature, October 29 and 30, 2011. (Watch for our reviews).