It’s a testament to the musical genius of Stephen Sondheim that almost 40 years after Cleo Laine and John Dankworth commissioned a retrospective of his music, Side by Side by Sondheim is still staged as often as it is.
The danger is that the revue showcasing tunes from 1957 to 1976 — culled from productions such as Company and Follies — can seem dated, since it doesn’t include music from shows he hadn’t yet written, such as Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park With George. Happily, Saltwater Inc.’s production overcomes this obstacle with panache, thanks in part to Mike Delamont’s playful, off-the-cuff narration, as when he describes the Andrews Sisters as a trio, but one that just includes Bette Midler, and suggests anyone who doesn’t know who Midler is should “just leave.”
Delamont also revealed an impressively robust set of pipes headlining the classic Follies number Beautiful Girls.
Director Sean Guist and his six-member cast capture the raw emotion, irony, wry humour and musical intricacy Broadway’s greatest living lyricist and composer is famous for. It would be quibbling to point out that doing so within a contrived, busy cocktail-party setting doesn’t always let Sondheim’s meticulously crafted material speak for itself.
Sara-Jeanne Hosie’s musical-theatre prowess is evident throughout, notably in her soulful readings of the classic torch song Losing My Mind, the contemplative gem Send in the Clowns and the survivors’ anthem I’m Still Here.
She also nicely showcased her impeccable comic timing as Alan Macdonald’s mistress in You Must Meet My Wife and a trumpet-tooting showgirl in You Gotta Getta Gimmick, her Gypsy show-stopper with Alison Roberts and Kat Palmer.
Palmer also showcases her dramatic chops and operatic range in the revue’s most dramatic number — West Side Story’s heart-wrenching duet A Boy Like That. The performer also unleashed her amusing pluckiness in Ah Paris, but inexplicably was short on the oomph factor for Another Hundred People.
She revved up again for Company’s Andrews Sisters-inspired You Could Drive a Person Crazy with Macdonald, hamming it up with aplomb, and Roberts, a remarkably expressive spitfire tailor-made for Broadway.
Roberts nailed the challenge of racing through rapid-fire patter as the terrified bride in the tongue-twister Getting Married Today, complemented by Palmer’s impressive operatic arias, and playing the one-night-stand flight attendant in Barcelona.
Company’s classic morning-after number also allowed Macdonald to shine again as bachelor Bobby, until he outdid himself with a dramatic, suitably soaring rendition of Being Alive, one of three stirring second-act soliloquies.
Joseph Bulman’s highlights included Could I Leave You. He sang the Follies number usually sung by a woman to bitchy, biting perfection. His dramatic rage was in marked contrast to his lovely, almost whisper-quiet take on Remember You.
Side by Side by Sondheim also benefits from Guist’s serviceable staging, Phoebe Rumsey’s eclectic choreography and Joanne Hounsell’s musical direction, with Shane Beech and Michael Drislane bringing the virtuosic composer to life on twin pianos.
Where: Metro Studio, 1411 Quadra St.
When: Today 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.
Tickets: ticketrocket.org / 250-590-6291
Rating: four stars (out of five)
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