Review by Aimée O’Grady
Fauquier Community Theatre brings the magic of Broadway favorites to the stage with the production of the Tony Award–winning musical Side by Side by Sondheim. Directed by Steve McBride, the musical includes a cast of three principal actors and six featured actors who entertain, charm, and dazzle.
Music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim, as well as classics written with musical theater giants Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, and Richard Rodgers. Musical numbers include songs from Broadway shows like Company, Follies, West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, A Little Night Music, and more.
In its 44th-anniversary season, the theater took on a big repertoire of music by one of the most influential composers of our time. Sondheim died on November 26 last year at the age of 91. Fauquier Community Theatre thought it fitting to celebrate the life of the composer-lyricist by producing Side by Side by Sondheim.
The voices of the cast were charming and harmonious, filling the theater with beautiful music resonating with Sondheim’s style of parody, farce, and double entendre lyrics. Sondheim’s universally relatable lyrics bask in the music, which is moving, emotional, and nostalgic with tongue-in-cheek humor.
The tight-knit cast camaraderie was evident with their easy on-stage banter and body language. The six female cast members wear cocktail dresses in jewel-tone colors representing a rainbow of colors on stage. The men are dressed up in suits except for the principal actor Patrick Mulhern who wears a tuxedo. He is a classically trained lyric tenor who commands the room and creates emotive and moving pieces.
Principal Abbey Smith, likewise, possesses a dramatic and grand voice during several performances most notably when she sang “A Boy Like That” from West Side Story and “Losing My Mind” from Follies.
Principal cast member Cheryl Bolt’s performance of “The Boy From…,” which is a parody of “The Girl From Ipanema,” was masterfully performed as she navigated the tongue-twisting fictional location of the subject of the song. Her bossa nova style for the song increased with each chorus and served to highlight the fun musical number.
Elizabeth Steimel’s performance of the patter-song “Getting Married Today” written for a manic character, Amy, in the 1970 musical Company, evokes her character’s evident anxiety and reluctance to marry. The challenging fast-paced music and lyrics performed by Elizabeth are sure to have audiences wondering how she does it so well.
When Danica Shook took the stage to perform “Send in the Clowns,” I was transported back to my childhood home where I watched it performed by Judy Collins. Shook’s pitch-perfect voice and heartfelt performance endearingly connect the audience.
Cast members took turns narrating information from Sondheim’s life to frame the next series of songs, for instance, the ups and downs of show business and his first meeting with Oscar Hammerstein. Side by Side by Sondheim was originally performed in 1976 in London earning the Laurence Olivier Award and then went on in the States to win the Tony Award for Best Musical.
A 2012 NPR interview with Sondheim quotes him saying, “I love the theater as much as music and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry, just making them feel is paramount to me.” The cast succeeds in achieving Sondheim’s goal of making the audience feel many emotions. Audiences will delight in the lively and energetic music, and the oftentimes lyrics of comedy.
Accompaniment throughout the musical is performed on two pianos side by side, by Steve McBride and Bart McMillan. The show is co-produced by Annette Gibson and Candace Hafler. Sound and lighting design is by Dan Martin and run by Cameron Obando. Choreography is primarily by Clark and Shook, and set design by Lorna McBee feels like Sondheim is right there on stage.
Side by Side by Sondheim plays through May 15, 2022, on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm at Fauquier Community Theatre – 4225 Aiken Drive, Warrenton, VA. (There is a Mother’s Day performance on Sunday, May 8, at 2:00 pm with complimentary beverages for moms.) For reserved-seat tickets ($18 students, $20 seniors, $22 adults), call the box office at (540) 349–8760 or purchase them online.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional. Fauquier Community Theatre’s COVID Policy is here.
Aimée O’Grady is a product of the Arts. Visiting Broadway in middle school to see both Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables established an affection for theater that she has carried throughout life. The French and Art History undergraduate pursued a Master’s of Arts with a focus on writing. She supports the arts as a volunteer, writer, and mother of four children, each of whom is enrolled in an art program.