San Diego Theater Preview: SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM (North Coast Repertory Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on July 15, 2015

in Theater-Regional


Stephen Sondheim is so beyond merely good and light years away from conventional that some may view his musicals as pure art and overlook the slathers of songs he wrote that are packed with Broadway showmanship. Even if Sondheim’s standards aren’t effortlessly hummable—except for his one huge hit “Send in the Clowns”—they had to happen: As Bernstein said about Beethoven, Sondheim’s songs create and confess their own endemic inevitability. They define him as they describe us in all of our gloriously psychological complexity.

Angelina Réaux, Randall Dodge, Rena Strober, and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper

In 1976, the first and still most successful of Sondheim revues hit the boards in England. Not only did it prove that Sondheim’s work was just as good out of context, it introduced his songs to those outside intellectual theatrical circles. And when you attend Side by Side by Sondheim at North Coast Rep, which opens this week, you will be amazed at the composer/lyricist’s genius, whether you are a rabid Sondheim freak or a neophyte.

Randall Dodge, Angelina Reaux, Alby Potts, Rene Strober, and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper.

Ned Sherrin’s compilation pays homage to Sondheim’s effortless lyrics for Mary Rodgers (The Mad Show), Richard Rodgers (Do I Hear a Waltz?), Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story), and Jule Styne (Gypsy) as well as his increasingly stylized self-collaborations (notably the lyrics and music for Anyone Can Whistle, Follies, Company, and A Little Night Music, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). Sherrin wrote between-songs patter (a.k.a. “continuity”), and his clever ordering showcases Sondheim’s wise, contradictory takes on marriage, New York, disillusionment, showbiz, and more.

Randall Dodge, Angelina Réaux, Alby Potts, Rena Strober, and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper

Astoundingly, the dozens of songs in this revue represent less than half of Stephen Sondheim’s protean repertory. Yet Side by Side by Sondheim (a title based on a song from Company) nonetheless offers songs well worth a second listen (for us Sondheim fanatics, what among his work is not?), among them the music-hall rouser “I Never Do Anything Twice,” the winsome ballad “I Remember,” and the double-entendre-filled “Can That Boy Foxtrot.” And these songs need great entertainers who can act as well as sing. It’s terrific news that Randall Dodge, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Angelina Réaux, and Rena Strober—all stalwart pros—will be performing under David Ellenstein’s direction. Susan Jordan-DeLeon choreographs and Tom Abruzzo and Alby Potts are the musicians.

It all started with David Kernan, who was playing Carl-Magnus in the original London production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. He was contacted by Cleo Lane and her husband John Dankworth, who wanted Kernan to put together a revue of some kind as a benefit for a theater they owned in Wavendon. Kernan Theater Preview: SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM (North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach, San Diego)contacted director Sherrin and suggested that they do a revue of Sondheim material. When they wrote to Sondheim for permission, Kernan received a telegram back: “By all means try, but I can’t think of anything more boring except possibly the Book of Kells.”

The benefit was a smash. Burgeoning producer Cameron Mackintosh picked up the show with the original actors (Millicent Martin, Julie McKenzie, Kernan, and Ned Sherrin as the narrator) and brought it to the West End. Sondheim agreed to come over and work with the cast and—according to—ended up essentially directing. During the show’s three-year run in London, the original cast opened the Broadway production in 1977; it ran for 384 performances, and all four actors were nominated for a Tony award. Unfortunately, the North Coast Rep production only runs through August 9, 2015, so plan ahead—it may just be something you want to do twice.

photos courtesy of North Coast Rep

Side by Side by Sondheim
North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr. in Solana Beach
Wed at 7; Thurs-Sat at 8; Sat & Sun at 2; Sun at 7
July 15 – August 9, 2015 EXTENDED to August 16, 2015
for tickets, call (858) 481-1055 or

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