If you like Broadway musicals, you probably love the work of Stephen Sondheim. He's the reigning master of the medium, writing music and lyrics for hit shows like West Side Story, Gypsy, Into the Woods, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, to name a few. The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (FAC) brings Sondheim's musical magic to the stage in Putting it Together, running through September 27.
It's a musical melange of nearly 30 Sondheim songs, opening with his commentary on the creative process from Sunday in the Park with George. Director and choreographer Nathan Halvorson channels Sondheim's message, constructing art bit by precious bit — a powerhouse cast, a small but accomplished orchestra, gorgeous costumes, lively choreography and a creative, two-level set — combining for two hours of music and fun.
While there's no storyline in Putting it Together, themes are present, including love, marriage, seduction, infidelity and conflict. Sondheim's lyrics express those themes, but the chemistry of the cast is what sells them. This is an ensemble that, from the opening, develops real characters and real emotions.
A five-person ensemble puts it together with some of the best voices on any Colorado stage. Whether they're singing as a company or solo, this crew rocks the house.
Mackenzie Sherburne casts a spell on the audience with "The Miller's Son" and stuns during her duet with Max Ferguson for "Bang!" Arguably the most beautifully executed song in the show, "Bang!" sizzles with choreography that includes actors stomping on a table. Ferguson stands out on "Marry Me a Little," a tender love song. Sally Hybl's powerful voice is applied with magnificent effect on "Getting Married Today," as she zips through numerous tempo changes, delivering lyrics at the speed of a machine gun without missing a word, a note or a beat. Jordan Leigh packs a punch in "Sorry-Grateful," Sondheim's ode to the conflicted feelings that come with relationships.
Scott RC Levy, usually behind the scenes, is onstage full throttle for Putting it Together. When he sings "I Could Drive A Person Crazy," there are no skeptics left in the audience.
Had I selected the music, Putting it Together would have turned out differently: Sondheim's oeuvre includes so many songs, it would be difficult to choose which to include in a two-hour show. That said, some of his most popular don't make the cut. You will not hear "Maria," "Tonight" or anything else from West Side Story. Nor will you hear "Send in the Clowns." Sondheim collaborated on Putting it Together before its 1992 UK debut, so the result is more his favorites than mine.
But Sondheim's music is timeless, and the FAC uses it to innovate the art. Bit by bit, song by song, Putting it Together is a treat for all.