Sondheim Montage – Unexpectedly Fresh

Just when we thought we were Sondheimed out, comes this patter-free cornucopia of the Master’s songs sequenced in story-like chapters. Excerpts from dozens of musicals and films seem to relate as if original progression were intended. MD Jon Weber has woven numbers together with the skill of an Aubusson Tapestry. Subtle jazz underpinnings make arrangements fresh without coloring too far outside the lines.

As directed by Sondra Lee, the evening is captivating, utilizing the full stage and segments of interaction as if theater, creating characters and scenes. (Kudos to          Abby Judd, Beechman’s Lighting expert.)

Bookended by “Our Time” (Merry We Roll Among), we open with reaffirmation of KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar’s mutual admiration. “On My Left”: On my left/Let me state/Is a prince/Of a fellow…(Bounce), “It Takes Two”: It takes two/I thought one was enough/It’s not true:/It takes two of us… (Into the Woods), andSide By Side By Side” (Company) are performed as the artists jauntily cross the stage arm in arm. This is the third in their series of Sondheim shows, not to mention myriad other presentations and a venerable friendship.

Sullivan’s “No One Has Ever Loved Me” (Passion), “With So Little to Be Sure Of” (Anyone Can Whistle), and “So Many People” (Saturday Night) are vulnerable and persuasive. Across the stage is a very different approach to bachelorhood. Harnar’s “Live Alone and Like It” (Dick Tracy) is so vocally dancy, one expects him to break into tap. Interpretation of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” (Company) as texted conversation on a cell phone makes the song contemporary without losing intention.

A rollicking take on “I Know Things Now”, formerly sung by Little Red Riding Hood (Into the Woods), is enacted with flirty gusto by Harnar as he wanders through the audience sitting on laps and intermittently emitting a Grade A wolf howl. Melding  this with “More” (Dick Tracy) is inspired. The vocalist finishes feet crossed, hands behind his head, slouching across a chair. The last “more” emerges with almost tangible mischief.

“Beautiful” (Sunday in the Park with George) and “Good Thing Going” (Merrily We Roll Along) are palpably sad tonight. Sullivan seems on the verge of tears, subsumed by loss. A duet of “Every Day a Little Death” (A Little Night Music), performed face to face arrives as angry blaming on her part and utter pain on his. This is one of the few instances leaving pronouns alone doesn’t seem to work. We see the pair throughout, whether friends or lovers, as a couple, and confrontation with an unseen “him” (not each other) as the perpetrator confuses.

“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” erupts with Harnar’s rapier punctuation and noir film accompaniment. It’s fast, harsh, and mean. Sullivan then trills “Pretty Women” and “Johanna” employing gossamer restraint. Eyes closed, she dreams and shares. Long, rippling vibrato and deep inhaling draws us in. The lady seems besotted.

Combining a nervous “The Little Things You Do Together” (Company), a doubtful “I’m Calm” (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and the panicked “Getting Married Today” (Company) is delectable. Harnar communicates every emotion. Execution of the tongue twister is pristine. The lyric …Jesus Christ is it fun morphs from affirmation to prayer.

Two from Follies, the majordomo’s “Beautiful Girls” and Buddy and Ben’s “Waiting for The Girls Upstairs” are rendered not by familiar male voices, but by Sullivan. When she turns towards invisible Ziegfeld-like steps, we almost see what she sees. Delivery is part Al Jolson, part Mae West and continues through “Buddy’s Blues.” Here the actress manifests Buddy and Sally with glee. It’s irrepressibly bright. She’s having fun and so are we.

“Send in The Clowns” (A Little Night Music) and “Old Friends” (Merrily We Roll Along) go together like salt n’ pepper. I admit to not understanding inclusion of “The Ladies Who Lunch” (Company) but staging, replete with cocktails and tipsy demeanor, is swell. “Take Me to The World” (Evening Primrose) and a reprise of “Our Time” (Company) burnish what appears to be the show’s end.

Sullivan and Harnar leave the stage. Silence and applause ensue. Weber’s unexpected lead in to a creative encore brings back the duo. The evening in fact closes with Stephen Sondheim’s very first song, “How Do I Know?” written at The George School when he was 15 years old.

Sondheim Montage is fluid, fun, and flush with heady moments.

The show will be repeated on August 15 and October 13 2018

Photos by Maryann Lopinto

Sondheim Montage
Music & Lyrics by the inimitable Stephen Sondheim
KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar
Jon Weber- MD/Pianist
Sondra Lee- Director
The Laurie Beechman Theatre
July 11, 2018
Click for Venue Calendar 

About Alix Cohen (1771 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.