Fans of Broadway composers Stephen Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz croweded into the George Weston Recital HAll this past weekend to see Encore ENtertainment's SONGS IN THE KEY OF STEPHEN - a special concert done for just two performances. Producer Merle Garbe assembled an exceptionally talented troupe of twenty-two performers to sing through thirty songs by these two composers. The program is a little more heavily weighted towards Sondheim, but that merely reflects the larger number of scores Sondheim has written over the past 50 years.
The concert opened with “Magic to Do’ from Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin. This number cries out for some type of choreographed movement, but director Mario D’Alimonte simply had the cast stand and deliver the catchy tune. This only spotlights the repetitive lyrics, but the energetic playing by the three-piece band under Steve Lavoie’s tight control provided the needed vigor. After this curiously flat opening the show sprouTed Wings, taking flight through a series of dazzling solo turns including Kate Wise’s powerfully sung “Defying Gravity” (from WICKED) and Zandee Toovey’s heartfelt rendition of “Meadowlark” (from THE BAKER'S WIFE.)
Then came the Sondheim songs including “Losing My Mind” (from FOLLIES), “Being Alive” (COMPANY) and “Send in the Clowns” (A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.) The first act concludes with a beautifully sung “Sunday” (from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.) The second half unfolded in a similar fashion as the cast delivered one expertly performed number after another, pausing only to occasionally offer a few biographical details, thankfully delivered without any condescension. D’Alimonte has the cast share information with us rather than lecturing us. Still the narration fails to clarify that the music for GYPSY’s “You Gotta have a Gimmick” and WEST SIDE STORY’s “Gee Officer Krupke” are by Jule Styne and Leonard Bernstein respectively.
Mostly, the performers along with the producers and creative staff want to ensure everyone enjoys this concert and with that in mind Garbe has done an exceptional job of programming the selections to balance the more familiar songs with others that may be less familiar but certainly no less enjoyable.
Along the way you will discover the innocent fun of “Neat to be a Newsboy” from WORKING, the ghoulish delight “A Little Priest” from Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD and the stirring message of hope found in “Our Time.” from Merrily We Roll Along.
In short this is a feast for musical theatre fans that will leave you wanting even more. It is unfortunate that the concert is being presented for just two performances.
For information about future shows by Encore Entertainment visit http://www.encoreshows.com/
Photo credit: Merle Garbe, Encore Entertainment