There is nobody more surprised than me that I would be writing a Stephen Sondheim review and liking it.
Sondheim, was until just recently, my least favorite of the composer/lyricists.
I became his instant fan last week when his "Side by Side by Sondheim" opened at the Pasadena Playhouse. This production with singers Davis Gaines (of "Phantom" fame) Julie Dixon Jackson and Teri Ralston, was energetic, fun and fantastic.
This compilation of Sondheim lyrics from plays such as "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "A Little Night Music," "Company," "Follies," "Evening Primrose," "Anyone Can Whistle," "Do I hear a Waltz," "The Mad Show," Pacific Overtures," "West Side Story" and "Gypsy." showed me Sondheim at his most cutting, poignant, romantic, and hysterically funny.
Gaines, Dixon Jackson, and Ralston work extremely well together. How well they played off one another - they are a great team. Dixon Jackson has an amazing sense of comedic timing. Her rendition of "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" from the show "Gypsy" was sidesplitting masterful. I laughed so loudly, I do believe I was making a spectacle of myself. Adding to the fun of this entire set from "Gypsy" were Ralston and Gaines who also presented their own inspired gimmicks that set the audience into more gales of laughter.
Ralston, who appeared in the original Sondheim productions of "Company" and "A Little Night Music" showed her veteran mettle with her dramatic renditions of "Send in the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music," "Some People" from "Gypsy," and "I'm Still Here" from "Follies."
Gaines, who sang the role of the phantom in "The Phantom of the Opera," more times than anyone on record, slipped into Sondheim's bag of tricks seamlessly. His voice, which is smooth as "buttah," tugged at heart strings as he sang, "I Remember" from "Evening Primrose," "Anyone Can Whistle," by the play of the same name, and "Could I Leave You," from "Follies."
While many of Sondheim's contemporaries were whipping up lyrical confections of many kinds, Sondheim would dig deeper, sometimes exposing the very essence of humanity. Not something we always wanted to hear, but something we would relate to and remember.
"Side by Side by Sondheim" is a perfect balance of this man's genius.
The play runs through Nov. 21 For ticket and production information, call 626-356-7529. The Pasadena Playhouse, State Theatre of California, is located at 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena.