By Sue Morgan
For a few magical hours during the opening night of Sonoma Arts Live Theatre Company’s performance of Side by Side by Sondheim, the problems of the world fell away, leaving only delight. A musical revue of some of the best of Stephen Sondheim’s vast cannon of songs, with music by Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers, and Jule Styne, this is a production not to be missed.
This enchanting performance begins as four guests arrive for an evening of “song and festivities” at a swanky Manhattan apartment—beautifully designed by Carl Jordon. Cityscape glittering outside the window, the callers enjoy sparkling libations, including vodka stingers, while singing together, individually, and in various combinations. Two grand pianos, one on either side of the picture window, allow for a richer and fuller sound than a single piano could provide. Often played in harmony, they create a lush and complex musical texture that highlights the intricacy and sophistication of Sondheim’s compositions. As the full company begins to sing the enlivening “Comedy Tonight” and “Love is in the Air,” it is immediately apparent that this will be a very special evening.
…a production not to be missed!
The cast are, without exception, outstanding. That said, if consigned to live out my life on a desert island with only one performer for company, I would choose Danielle “Dani” Innocenti-Beem. With an artistic virtuosity so practiced that it seems effortless, Ms. Beem’s voice has a rare and indescribable quality that sets it apart from any other.
Add to that her ability to convey the entire spectrum of emotion with no more than facial expressions, and we are witnessing a world-class performer. With songs ranging from the achingly gorgeous, “Send in the Clowns” to the hilariously tongue-twisting “The Boy From”—’Tall and tender, like an Apollo, he goes walking by and I have to follow, him, the boy from Tacarembo La Tumbe Del Fuego Santa Malipas Zatatecas La Junta Del Sol Y Cruz’—Beem delivers seamless performances.
Maeve Smith’s vocal range is a wonder to behold! From breathless whisper to full out belting voice, she is up for the task. With acting chops to match, she’s a formidable performer. In “Another Hundred People” Smith’s sense of disconnection feels palpable as she laments being surrounded by people but sharing intimacy with none. In “Getting Married Today,” Smith displays her ability to articulate perfectly while singing at break-neck pace, to wonderful comic effect.
Jonathen Blue’s beautiful tenor is both rich and wistful as he sings about the possibility of love in the stunning “Being Alive.” Blue’s deft use of tone and timing made this a standout among many such performances of the night. His solo comic tune, “Buddy’s Blues,” showcased a disarming charm as he elicited sympathy despite the dubious character he portrayed.
From tenor to bass, Alexei Ryan, has a unique and compelling voice. His rendition of “I Remember”—typically sung by a woman—was simply gorgeous. His ability to sustain perfect pitch at the lowest register was astonishing! His duet with Innocenti-Beem in “You Must Meet my Wife,” was one of the funniest performances of the evening as his earnestness hilariously contrasted with Beem’s eye-rolling “give-me-a-break” disingenuousness.
Rick Love did his best as the narrator to infuse the outdated and frequently tone-deaf jokes with humor via his delivery, but it might be a mercy to simply drop the jokes. Love shined when acting as our guide, introducing and contextualizing the songs performed, providing background information on the composers and the stories behind the songs.
Director Andrew Smith is a master at drawing out natural-seeming performances from his actors. The performers mix drinks, mingle with one another and lounge comfortably around the set, which somehow has the effect of making the audience feel like guests at the party.
Musical Direction by Ellen Patterson was spot on. The choices she made regarding who would perform each song were inspired, as was her direction of the superbly talented pianists.
The combination of Beem, Smith, Blue and Ryan and their ability to effectively convey the humor, heart and complexity of Sondheim’s music, the simple, yet ingenuous set design, and stellar musical accompaniment all work together to make this an awards-worthy production. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Sonoma Arts Live theater company!
|Side By Side By Sondheim
|Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers, Jule Styne
|Sonoma Arts Live
|Thursdays thru Sundays through May 7, 2023
|Rotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
|$25 – $42
|Max in each category is 5/5
|Aisle Seat Review Pick?