A bright evening of Sondheim songs Revue: Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre singers range far and wide.

June 09, 1996|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Side by Side by Sondheim," the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's first offering of the season, is a well-sung, fast-paced revue that's as cheery as can be, given that so many of Stephen Sondheim's songs deal with themes of disconnection and loneliness.

On the other hand, for each bittersweet "Send in the Clowns" or panic-stricken "Getting Married Today," there are bright ditties such as "Comedy Tonight" from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" from "Gypsy."

For all the poignant emotions in this music, though, I doubt you'll come away depressed.

In fact, your spirits may be buoyed by the quality of the performances, for there is a most-adept octet of singers on hand to steer you through the anthology of songs from shows such as "A Little Night Music," "Company," "Follies," "Anyone Can Whistle," "West Side Story" and "Into the Woods."

Sondheim's music is a challenge. His rhythms can be difficult to grab on to, and his knotty melodies don't always sit comfortably in the voice. For singers, he's one of Broadway's truest handfuls, which makes the level of expertise in this cast all the more impressive.

It is lovely to see Jill Compton, still a charming soprano ingenue most of the time, depart from form to raise her wineglass and wallow in the bitterly sardonic survivor's anthem, "I'm Still Here."

Nori Morton is one of Annapolis' funniest clowns, and when she trots out her comical facial takes, Marlene Dietrich accent and dumb-blond squeals, as she does here, the effects are hilarious.

Eloise Ullman does extraordinarily well with the rapid-fire patter in "Getting Married Today" and teams with Sally Gilles for a nice "If Mama Was Married," from "Gypsy."

Margaret Allman is moving in the ultimate Sondheim torch song, "Losing My Mind," from "Follies," and Katy McAllister's strong voice is used to great advantage in the funny-sad "Barcelona," from "Company."

Eric Peterson and George Wall handle tenor and baritone parts quite nicely in a variety of venues and roles. Peterson is especially good in the title song from "Anyone Can Whistle," while Wall distinguishes himself in the impassioned "Being Alive," also from "Company."

What the show misses is a pair of belters, one of each gender. All of the voices are high, lyrical and on the small side, so when it's time to muscle up or go low, the singing sounds forced. Where are you, Ethel Merman?

The tape that accompanies the performance raises one question: If electric pianos have to sound like old honky-tonk uprights, why did anyone bother to invent them?

"Side by Side by Sondheim" will play Thursdays through Sundays at 8: 30 p.m. until July 6. Ticket information: 268-9212.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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