& Julia McKenzie
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Brenda Didier
Music Direction by Austin Cook
Produced by Porchlight Music Theatre
At Theater Wit, Chicago
Stunningly well sung Sondheim revue reflects on relationships
Porchlight Music Theatre kicks off their 17th season with new leadership as Michael Weber takes over as artistic director. He inherits a troupe with a long list of hits musicals. Their new season opens with a stunning production of a most difficult musical revue – Putting It Together.
The challenge in mounting a Sondheim revue is selecting a cast that can both articulate and sing Sondheim’s difficult lyrics and ‘sell’ the songs meaning with the proper blend of wit and emotion. Director Brenda Didier sure has done that with the cast of five. The equally challenging item in a successful Sondheim show is selecting a musical director/arranger who can find the proper musical treatment to accompany the demanding lyrics. Austin Cook’s arrangements together with his deft piano work sounded terrific as he and bass player Sam Flip and percussionist Matthew Sitz make up a expert trio that did justice to Sondheim’s music.
Putting It Together is placed in a Chicago West Loop condo (outstanding set design by John Zuiker) that finds five souls attending a subdued cocktail party hosted by a strange young man or houseboy (Alex Weisman) with a middle aged married couple (Adam Pelty and McKinley Carter) and an unmarried young couple (Aja Goes and Michael Reckling). The married couple are working out relationship problems while the younger couple are contemplating marriage. With a mixture of humor, angst, sexy innuendo, and thoughtful contemplation Sondheim has selected a revealing array of songs from such shows as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Merrily We Roll Along, Anyone Can Whistle, Sunday in the park with George,Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, The Frogs, Sweeney Todd and the film Dick Tracy.
The Sondheim song-cycle features opportunities for a five cast members to shine. Alex Weisman’s boyish charm wins us as he instructs the audience (think The Frogs) as the cast presents the title song as the couples exchange greeting. Songs like “My Husband Is A Pig,” Everyday A Little Death” present the laments of the women while the men sing “Everybody Ought To Have a Maid,” “Have I Got A Girl For You” and “Pretty Women.”
Solo numbers include Aja Goes nailing “Sooner Or Later” and McKinley Carter’s emotional rendering of “Could I leave You?” and “The Ladies Who Lunch.” The men offer heart-pounding tunes like the golden-voiced Michael Reckling’s “Marry Me A Little” and “Live Alone And Like It.” Adam Pelty’s regret comes across with songs like “The Road You Didn’t Take” and “Good Thing Going”.
This erudite, elegant and thoughtful revue demonstrates the power, wit and complexity of Sondheim’s lyrics. Anyone one seriously trying to write lyrics needs to see this show as it is a PhD in song writing. And, any singer who things they know how to sing difficult songs needs to hear Aja Goes swiftly articulate the impossible “Not Getting Married Today!” She nailed every word, every rhyme wonderfully. The stage chemistry was winning and the duets soared as the Sondheim song fest thrilled us with style and truthful performances. This revue is a major triumph! If you want to see a classy flawless musical revue, get to Theater Wit to be amazed by the craftsmanship and artistry of Chicago’s talents. Porchlight Musical Theatre continues to mount fine shows.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: September 6, 2011
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-975-8150, tickets $38, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 8 Pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through October 16, 2011