Review by Aimee O’Grady
The Fauquier Community Theater brings the magic of Broadway favorites to the stage with the production of the Tony Award-winning musical Side by side near Sondheim. Directed by Steve McBride, the musical features a cast of three lead actors and six star actors who entertain, charm and dazzle.
Music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim, along with 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 musicand more.
In its 44th anniversary season, the theater has loaded itself with an extensive repertoire of music by one of the most influential composers of our time. Sondheim died on November 26 at the age of 91. The Fauquier Community Theater saw fit to celebrate the life of the composer-lyricist by producing Side by side near Sondheim.
The actors’ voices were charming and harmonious, filling the theater with beautiful music resonating with Sondheim’s style of parody, farce and double-meaning lyrics. Sondheim’s universally relatable lyrics bask in the music, which is moving, emotional and nostalgic with wry humor.
The actors’ tight camaraderie was evident with their easy onstage banter and body language. The six female cast members wear jewel-colored cocktail dresses representing a rainbow of colors on stage. The men are dressed in suits except for the main actor Patrick Mulhern who wears a tuxedo. He is a classically trained lyrical tenor who commands the hall and creates emotive and moving pieces.
Principal Abbey Smith, likewise, boasts a dramatic and awe-inspiring voice at several performances, most notably when she sang “A Boy Like That” from West Side Story and “Losing Your Mind” from Follies.
Lead actor Cheryl Bolt’s performance of “The Boy From…”, which is a parody of “The Girl From Ipanema”, was masterfully performed as she navigated the fictional location of the song’s subject. His bossa nova style for the song increased with each chorus and served to highlight the fun musical number.
Elizabeth Steimel’s rendition of the song “Getting Married Today” written for a maniacal character, Amy, in the 1970 musical Company, evokes his character’s obvious anxiety and reluctance to marry. The uplifting, 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 to my childhood home where I watched her performed by Judy Collins. Shook’s perfect vocals and heartfelt performances connect audiences in an endearing way.
Cast members took turns narrating information about Sondheim’s life to frame the next set of songs, for example, the ups and downs of show business and her first meeting with Oscar Hammerstein. Side by side near Sondheim was originally performed in 1976 in London and won the Laurence Olivier Award, then went on to the United States to win the Tony Award for Best Musical.
A 2012 NPR interview with Sondheim quotes him as saying, “I love theater as much as I love music and the idea of bringing an audience through and making them laugh, making them cry, 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 upbeat, energetic music and often comical lyrics.
The 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 directed by Cameron Obando. The choreography is mostly by Clark and Shook, and the set design by Lorna McBee gives the impression that Sondheim is right there on stage.
Side by side near Sondheim plays through May 15, 2022, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. at the Fauquier Community Theater – 4225 Aiken Drive, Warrenton, VA. (There’s a Mother’s Day show on Sunday, May 8 at 2:00 p.m. with free drinks for moms.) For reserved seat tickets ($18 student, $20 senior, $22 adult), call the box office at (540) 349 –8760 or buy them on line.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional. The Fauquier Community Theater COVID policy is here.
Aimee O’Grady is a product of the Arts. Visit Broadway in college to see both The Phantom of the Opera and Wretched established an affection for the theater that she carried throughout her life. The undergraduate French and Art History pursued a Master 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 arts program.