2 min

Everything old

Seems old again

Credit: Xtra files

Mounting a concert to showcase the songs of Stephen Sondheim, the most important composer/lyricist still working in the American musical theatre, should be a regular occurrence in Toronto. Music lovers in this city adore him and his music.

But why is CanStage, rather than one of Toronto’s many musical organizations, presenting Side By Side By Sondheim? CanStage has certainly done a fine job over the years presenting Sondheim’s shows. But those productions – I fondly remember a first rate version of Assassins – were actually musical theatre. As we are told from the stage at the start of Side By Side, “This is not a play.” It is not a musical either. This is a concert featuring Sondheim’s songs.

Originally, this particular set of songs was chosen and put together (along with a connecting script written by the acerbic British wit Ned Sherrin) in 1976 for a series of concerts in London, repeated to great acclaim in New York two years later. But the show has few other credentials as theatre. However, Broadway musical fans are famous for their vivid memories and making this a part of CanStage’s season must have seemed a lot easier than coming up with anything new.

In fact it would seem that doing anything new was the last thing on anyone’s mind. Only Sherrin’s script has been “updated,” unfortunately replaced with a series of alleged jokes and hackneyed shtick that wouldn’t be funny at an Empire Club luncheon.

For the rest, we have journeyed in time directly back to the 1970s.

Designer John Thompson’s set features giant shiny black steps and tall lighting poles with clamped-on rows of spotlights that occasionally shine out into the audience. Andrea Lundy is usually an imaginative lighting designer but this time her light screens at back stage rarely seem to connect with the action or mood at stage front. For instance, the famous Sondheim line about “a follow spot” elicits no discernible reaction from the lighting grid.

This is all a great shame, since the four talented singers/actors/ dancers on stage combine to give outstanding performances of some extraordinary songs, while throwing themselves with loyal gusto into the antique routines with which director Eda Holmes punctuates the music.

Dan Chameroy and Jay Turvey provide sterling support throughout the evening, even though they are dressed in outfits that look as if they were made back in the time when Thompson’s set would still have appeared fresh and exciting.

Mary Ann MacDonald and Julain Molnar get the best songs and do them full justice. Mac- Donald’s “Send In The Clowns,” though almost sabotaged by an inexplicable shower of stage snow behind her, and Molnar’s fresh take on “Losing My Mind,” are the evening’s highlights.

Finally, the two women’s drag queen impressions in the sexually subversive “Can That Boy Foxtrot” and “I Never Do Anything Twice” are the sole, funny exceptions during a Sondheim evening that lacks any other gay content or sparkle.

* Side By Side By Sondheim continues at Bluma Appel (27 Front St E) until Sat, Dec 28; call (416) 368-3110.