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Sondheim on Sondheim

a Musical Revue
by Stephen Sondheim

COMPANY : Act 3 Productions [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Act 3 Playhouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 4747

SHOWING : July 02, 2015 - July 18, 2015



Conceived by James Lapine as a loving tribute for Sondheim’s 80th birthday, this show provides an intimate look at the father of the modern musical, featuring new arrangements of his most beloved work. Through the use of exclusive interview footage, the audience will get an inside look at the famed composer.

This show is a special event produced jointly by Act3 Productions and the Metropolitan Atlanta Theater Awards. Proceeds will benefit the MAT Awards.

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Slide by Slide by Sondheim
by playgoer
Saturday, July 4, 2015
"Sondheim on Sondheim" combines live performance with video, pictures, and voiceover featuring Stephen Sondheim himself. The documentary portions of the evening introduce or relate to many of the musical selections, sometimes in humorous ways, such as when Mala Bhattacharya’s "Do I Hear a Waltz?" is interrupted by recorded footage of Sondheim regretting that he wrote the same-named musical. Ms. Bhattacharya’s peeved reaction makes the number.

There are over twenty performers in this production, and when their massed voices are raised in song, it’s almost overwhelming in beauty. The effect is soured at times by Sam Weiller’s sound design, which filters the vocal performances through the sound system, making it difficult to locate a singer onstage when the sound is emanating most powerfully from a speaker positioned in the wings. Occasional microphone crackle was also heard in the performance I attended.

Theresa Dean’s set design uses staircases at left and right, with a promenade balcony connecting the staircases, a screen positioned in its center. Stage left contains a living room setting, with chair, sofa, coffee table, rug, and massive candlesticks. The elements work well both for choral numbers and for smaller scenes, except in one instance: when Joel Rose is singing "Epiphany" from "Sweeney Todd," he starts the number on the black-painted balcony, which is effective, but comes down the stage left staircase to finish the number backed by a contemporary suburban living room set. It would have been more effective in blackness throughout, as on the stage right portion of the set, which contains plain black walls.

Otherwise, blocking is good throughout, with crowd control effectively filling the stage in ensemble numbers and movement flowing pretty naturally in the smaller-scale numbers. Act one ends with a lovely vignette suggesting Seurat’s "Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la grande jatte," echoing the act one ending of "Sunday in the Park with George." Co-directors Michelle Davis and Chris Ikner have done a fine job in making the show a pleasure to watch. Musical director Laura Gamble has made it a treat to listen to as well. Lighting designer William Joel Coady and choreographer Johnna B. Mitchell have aided in the visual appeal of the production, although their contributions are most successful when they are least ambitious.

The contribution of props master Taylor Sorrel seems to have been primarily in supplying materials for "The Gun Song" sequence from "Assassins." While warned copiously by signs in the lobby and the curtain speech, the audience didn’t experience the expected gunshot at the performance I saw. Let’s hope the effect works as expected in subsequent performances. (It certainly seemed to after the show.) The problem may have been user error; I didn’t notice the gun cocked by the actress I assume was responsible for the shot.

With such a large cast, not everyone is featured equally. Those given solos are provided the best opportunity to shine. Some highlights for me were Erin Jackson’s "Send in the Clowns," Brian Wittenberg’s rapid-fire "Franklin Shepard, Inc.," Zachary Stuffs’ full-voiced "Being Alive," and Lisa Hatt’s sequence of songs from "Passion." Ms. Hatt impressed me most in the production, I’d have to say, with her voice and facial expressions reinforcing one another in number after number (although the sound system did her no favors in the opening number, where her over-miked voice threw off the balance of the ensemble).

For a Sondheim fan, ACT3’s production of "Sondheim on Sondheim" should be catnip and the cat’s meow. For any fan of local musical theatre, it also provides a wonderful showcase of the level of vocal expertise available for non-professional productions. As a fund-raiser for the Metropolitan Atlanta Theater Awards, it’s a tribute to the local talent pool, both onstage and behind the scenes. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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