Everybody Says Don’t: The Music and Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim
Featuring Russell Stevens
Musical Direction by Christopher Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, Florida, and online
Reviewed by Carl F. Gauze
The death of Steven Sondheim led to an outpouring of retrospectives, and this is one of the better ones. It’s a one-man performance backed by the invisible-to-the-eye Chris Leavy and takes place on the current set of Trav’lin. Russell Stevens is uniquely qualified; he’s met and corresponded on a potential, yet failed adaptation of a lesser Sondheim work. The evenings starts with discussion of Sondheim’s early years when he mostly worked on book writing. He had success here writing books for shows like Gypsy and West Side Story. Proving himself as a double threat, he aspired to doing the book and music for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum.
Stevens sings to a virtual house, but still gets to correctly guess the audience’s reaction to each number. We hear stories of Stevens hanging out at the stage door, being chased by security guards while aiming for an autograph, and then he reveals a series of hand-typed letters discussing an ultimately rejected redo of Sondheim’s biggest flop Anyone Can Whistle. The performance was well filmed and had unusually clear audio. It’s a good look into the Sondheim legend, executed by a great voice and back up player.