Springfield Contemporary Theatre at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza (corner of Robberson & Pershing) celebrates the 90th birthday of Stephen Sondheim, the leading composer of American musical theatre for over fifty years, with a production of "Side By Side By Sondheim" January 10-26. It’s an award-winning revue of Sondheim’s work up to the mid-1970s.
Says director Ron Seney, "He is probably one of the most celebrated lyric writers, music writers." When Sondheim was a teenager, Oscar Hammerstein was his neighbor, and the young man learned a great deal from the legendary lyricist. "Probably one of the first things people know about (Sondheim) is, he wrote the lyrics for 'West Side Story' in the 1950s." The revue covers Sondheim's early works, up to the mid-1970s. "The last one we do that he wrote was 'Pacific Overtures,' which people may not be familiar with."
The sheer variety of Sondheim's musical and lyrical styles can be daunting to performers of "Side By Side," said Jeff Carney, who hasn't actually performed much if any of the music included in this revue (There's nothing from "Sweeney Todd," for instance, which premiered in 1979, and which Carney has performed). "For me it's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do: memorization, notes, harmony. This is all new to me. It's like memorizing five different Sondheim musicals--it's been crazy! I've lost sleep over it. But I got it. It's all right."
Susan Belcher said "it's the wordplay that is so amazing and wonderful about Stephen Sondheim. Every song is a journey. Every song uses the wordplay to reveal character, to reveal conflict. And at the end of the journey, the song, someone has changed. So, not only are they incredibly entertaining, they are also emotional acting journeys. You get to sing, but you get to act at the same time. It's marvelous."
Belcher and Carney agreed that Sondheim's music is quite sophisticated--and difficult--in its own right. "But the audience is going to love it," said Carney. "These are tunes that are easy to listen to--hard to sing, easy to listen to." Director Ron Seney added, "One thing Sondheim has said is that each of his songs is a play; each lyric is a scene in that play. Like Susan said, there has to be a journey--the singer has to find that journey, and what happens to that character in that play." Belcher feels the intimacy of the SCT Center Stage space is a contributes greatly to the singer's ability to communicate Sondheim's ideas to an audience.
Asked if the songs were being "staged" or simply presented "concert style," Ron Seney said it will be "a combination. Some of the songs, I blocked it like it's a scene. Some of them, depending on the song, are going to be more like a concert performance, especially at the end: we have a 'Conversation Piece' that does 27 of his songs in about seven minutes!"
The production of “Side By Side By Sondheim” features, along with Susan Belcher and Jeff Carney, Genevieve Fulks; Dillon Savage; Bob Seney; and Ann Marie Wilcox-Daehn; with music direction by Alex Huff. Performances will be Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. There are receptions the opening weekend, Friday and Saturday Jan.10 and 11, following the performance. There will be talkback sessions with the director and cast after the Thursday Jan.16 and Sunday Jan.19 shows. The two Thursdays, the 16th and 23rd, are "Pay What You Can" nights--any tickets remaining as of 6:30pm will be available on a "pay-what-you-can" basis. For information call 831-8001 or visit www.springfieldcontemporytheatre.org.