Side By Side Sondheim
Directed by Bruce Earnest
Theater UCF, Orlando, FL
Carl F Gauze
Let’s drop back a few decades to a more innocent time, when people went to analysts rather than health clubs, and a divorce wasn’t a badge of honor. This was the era when the New York stage set musical taste, and Stephen Sondheim ruled New York. Sondheim wrote more songs in more plays than almost anyone else. West Side Story , A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum , Gypsy , you name it, he wrote the tunes mommy and daddy hummed in the cab on their way back to the old penthouse. There’s a bit of plot, but never mind it, it won’t interfere with your enjoyment of the singing, dancing, and vamping around from this enthusiastic cast.
The songs are challenging, and the UCF students a good solid shot at winging them out to the audience. My favorite was Frank Holmes, who had the most powerful voice in this young cast. His duet with the promising young Julie Ruth (“We’re Gonna Be All Right”) captured the agony of a fraying marriage, even though neither singer was really old enough for their first divorce. Other standouts include Daniel Lee Robbins, who handled two gentle ballads (“Remember” and “Being Alive”) with a practiced charm, and Ellen Caranasos, who put some new breath into the classic “Send in the Clowns‚”. There were a few moments when the cast’s voices became lost in the difficult acoustic space of the UCF theater.
Side by Side places you in the slightly contrived setting of audience member at a cabaret show. The illusion is amplified by having the actors mingle with the audience during intermission, non-alcoholic bourbon and martinis in hand. The elegant set, complete with dueling pianists and Hirschfeld caricatures reminds us that once upon a time, things really were cooler in New York.