Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's Sondheim on Sondheim

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Sondheim on Sondheim. The music and lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim. It was conceived and originally directed by James Lapine. It was directed by Nick Bowling. The music direction was by Austin Cook and the choreography was by Emily Ariel Rodgers. This show was about Stephen Sondheim's life and his music and how his music was like his life. It was a bunch of actors and singers who sang a bunch of Stephen Sondheim songs and then Stephen Sondheim would narrate through projectors (projection design by Mike Tutaj). I really liked this show. I had so much fun watching it. It was fun to see the actors just switch characters so quickly, like first to be a witch and then to be a sweet woman in love. I also liked finding out how Stephen Sondheim wrote his music and lived his life. I learned about several musicals I want to see, like Merrily We Roll Along and Follies. I want to see every single one of Sondheim's musicals. I think they should do something like the Hypocrite's All Our Tragic but with Stephen Sondheim musicals so you can see them all in one day. I would definitely go to see that. But this a great stepping stone to getting to that probably more than 12-hour show.

I thought it was awesome how Stephen Sondheim actually narrated the entire thing because, once you hear Sondheim talk about his work ,then little sniblets of his life come to you when you are hearing the songs. He is not so serious about his songwriting that he can't have fun and joke around a little bit, like when he talks about his fingernail clippings and how they should be in the Smithsonian. I really liked the song "God" that he made which is basically about himself and about how he thinks other people see him. He thinks they see him as a god. And I think I see him as a god of musical theater. I think that he was sort of making fun of himself and his writing. It showed the funny side to him in the way that he would just goof off on camera during the song. There was also a character (Stephen Rader) on stage who was completely Sondheim-ist (against Sondheim), and he is basically like the haters of his world. And by the end the hater has basically warmed up to Sondheim because he is just singing along and not arguing anymore.

Stephen Sondhein said that Merrily We Roll Along was his only even slightly autobiographical play. That is part of the reason that I liked the songs from that one so much, because they were relatable to a reviewer/actor. "Opening Doors" was about the life of a writer (Amelia Hefferon) and the life of a musician (Austin Cook) and the life of a lyricist (Yando Lopez). I like how they used the typewriter like a beat, sort of like the drums, like a backup beat. They are singing about how they are trying to make it in show business. I liked the part where they came to the producer (James Earl Jones II) and he was like, "There is no melody, you just need something they can tap their toes to, goodbye." I liked that because it seemed very autobiographical because Sondheim’s songs are very complicated and you don't know where the song is going next. "Franklin Shepherd, Inc" is all about buzzing and what it is like to be behind the scenes. The story of this song is that this man (Rader) is fed up with his friend (Jones) getting all the attention. And they are on television being interviewed by a talk show host (Adrienne Walker). The talk show host is only asking questions of the main producer who is the one who doesn't work on the songs very much and cares most about money. But the other man is in it for the work and wants to make theater. I really liked this song because it was different from a lot of songs; it was like hearing a workday, but somebody singing it. I thought the talk show host was great because she had the cheesy "I'm on Television" air to her character.

I really liked the song called “The Best Thing That Ever Happened” from Road Show. I thought it was cool how they changed the sex of the character who was being sung to. It used to be a man (Matthew Keffer) singing to a woman (Emily Berman) but now when they do the show it is a man (Rader) singing to a man (Lopez). I really liked that idea. It reminded me of Stephen Sondheim’s life because he is gay and he didn’t fall in love until he was in his sixties. They were pretty small changes to the song, but I found both versions very sweet. At the end they are all singing to each other and I think he was trying to say that no matter what sexuality you are, you can still love all kinds of people.

I really liked the song "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods. It was just about the children's understanding of what grown-ups say to them and how kids will not always do what you want, but they will hear you and they will understand you. And it is about how this mom who is a witch (Rebecca Finnegan) wants her child (Lopez) to stay with her forever and always be a child. But the child wants to go out and see the world. Stephen Sondheim's mom didn't really want to have a kid so she basically sent him off to live with Oscar Hammerstein. So he would basically live at his own house but spend most of his time at their house. And I think the song might be what he wanted his mom to be like; he wanted her to love him and not want him to grow up, but when he was growing up it seemed like she was happy that he was growing up and getting to go away from her. And Mama Rose (Finnegan) from Gypsy is also pretty sympathetic even though she doesn't really know how to parent because you see she loves her kids. Mama Rose and the witch have in common that they both don't want their children to grow up or become strippers. Mama Rose's song "Smile, Girls" was about having to smile on the stage while they performed. I don't think they should have cut that song from Gypsy because I really liked it; it seemed like a well-written song. Mama Rose is a divorced mom like Stephen Sondheim's mom and he feels like his mom didn't love him, but he thinks maybe his dad had something to do with that. But I think he probably still loved his mom even though she didn't love him back and you see that by how he makes these characters kind of like his mom, troubled but still lovable.

People who would like this show are people who like Stephen Sondheim musicals, typewriter beats, and Smithsonian-worthy toenails. I think people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is so well thought out and so fun. I absolutely loved being at this show!

Photos: Brandon Dahlquist

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