Northern Stage opened its 25th season this week with a totally entertaining four-person cast sharing the works of Broadway’s giant of a musical writer, Stephen Sondheim.
If you’re not a theater maven, Sondheim’s career was launched when he wrote most of the lyrics for “West Side Story,” and his major hits include “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Into the Woods.”
This production is a revue— essentially wall-to-wall music without the interference of a plot—and that’s a perfect way to display Sondheim’s talent, as he is widely known as the man who brought nuance and lyrical complexity to the American musical.
Twenty-seven songs explore love, loss, arrivals, departures, and all kinds of comedy. Sondheim’s influence is so significant that on his 80th birthday, The New York Times ran an eight-page feature on his achievements, and after his death, a theater in NYC and another in London were named after him.
In White River Junction, four actors and three musicians gathered on a set built to resemble a Big Apple garden park, and it felt authentic, given that we were outside in the theater’s beautiful summer space.
The band consisted of drummer Mitch Perrins, bass player Danny Santiago, and pianist Jacob Carll, who also served as music director. Their accompaniment was seamless, and at just the right volume to support the singers. Kudos to all three and to sound designer Jeremy Serrano.
The singers each deserve attention, for they blended voices beautifully, and knew when to grab the spotlight and when to share it. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
Cordell Cole will be familiar to anyone who went to see Northern Stage’s most recent production of Spamalot. He played Lancelot, and opens the show. His mellifluous voice was perhaps best evidenced when he performed “Marry Me a Little.”
Susan Haefner is proud to have settled down in Vermont after a significant career on Broadway and various touring performances. She exudes an easy charm and won my heart (again!) with her rendition of “Send In the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music.”
Jamie Laverdiere’s career got started at the former White River Theater Festival, and he got his Broadway debut starring opposite Nathan Lane in “The Producers.” His spotlight moment was a song called “Anyone Can Whistle.” The show it comes from only lasted for nine performances on Broadway, but the song itself lives on and is memorable.
Elexis Morton is making her Northern Stage debut, and there’s every reason to expect we’ll see her again. She’s got a big voice, and she controls it well. Her portrayal of a newly-arrived young woman in NYC is masterful and poignant. The song is “Another Hundred People,” and it explores all of the emotions someone might experience on their first arrival in the “City of Dreams.”
I shared with my wife Becky that Sondheim’s favorite composer was Bach, as she holds the same sentiment. And she pointed out that Sondheim, like Bach, develops music that “is surprising, and yet it is totally brilliant, and right.” And she’s right. This is a perfect night out for anyone who loves music, art, and the human struggle.
“Side by Side by Sondheim” runs through July 10, with performances Tuesdays through Sundays. For ticket information, visit NorthernStage.org or call 802-296-7000.