From PUTTING IT TOGETHER at Melbourne Civic Theatre. Photo by Max Thornton.
By KRISTIN SPRINGER
Guest Critic for BREVARD CULTURE
Director Peg Girard offers Brevard County “Putting It Together,” a sensual and dynamic cabaret to exhibit Stephen Sondheim’s bountiful repertoire at the Melbourne Civic Theatre.
Sondheim is hailed by many as the quintessential musical theater composer and lyricist of the late twentieth century. His scores are at once poignant and pithy, offering a thoughtful lens into the universal human condition. Performing Sondheim’s songs challenges singers with calisthenics in brisk articulation, jazzy harmonization, and deliberate sensitivity.
Of Sondheim’s three revues, “Putting It Together” offers the most robust storyline. Its broad selection of songs originates from 13 of Sondheim’s popular musicals, and, mimicking the character’s martinis, the plots are shaken and stirred to develop fresh and poignant inferences. His two other musical revues are — “Side by Side by Sondheim,” which premiered on Broadway in 1976, and “Sondheim on Sondheim,” which was recently produced as a concert reading by Titusville Playhouse and ran at both TPI and the Henegar Center.
Nimble-footed Anthony Santiago (the Observer) opens the show with a song warning the audience not to gasp, chatter, or eat noisy candy (from The Frogs). Then, the entire cast emerges for the production’s title song “Putting It Together” about the creative process (from Sunday in the Park with George) and continues into “Rich and Happy” to set the scene (from Merrily We Roll Along).In their Manhattan penthouse, a feuding couple (Alan Selby and Rita Moreno) are both playful and predatory while they entertain three unnamed friends, diving through a variety of capital vices into assorted romantic triangles. The audience is left to determine their own feelings about appropriate behavior regarding age, gender, and power. The Husband (again, Selby) has wandering eyes and hands in “Hello, Little Girl” while his wife (Moreno) witnesses and then comments on the flirtation, “My Husband the Pig.” She decides to take revenge by eliciting her own affair with the Observer in “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” (from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). Moreno throws unrelenting shade in “There’s Always a Woman” (from Anyone Can Whistle) and her diction rivals that of an auctioneer in “Getting Married Today” (from Company) as she remembers her first wedding.
At this point in the production, we follow heartthrob Anthony DeTrano on a pas de deux with fun and flirtatious Jessica Foix in the ingenue role in “Have I Got a Girl for You,” “Pretty Women,” “Sooner or Later,” “Bang!,” and “Unworthy of Your Love.” DeTrano exhibits buoyant tenor notes and scintillating baritone; Foix balances a brassy belt with occasional coloratura, all while exhibiting her comedienne expertise. After songs this steamy, you may desire a cigarette at intermission.Santiago, last featured at MCT as Hero in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, clearly has passion for shtick. Between his megawatt smile, his soft-shoe, and his quivering jazz hands, you expect a cigar and a Durant-ish “atcha-cha-cha” to surface in “Buddy’s Blues” (from Follies). His antics add wit and flashiness to the company numbers throughout the show. Santiago also has legit tenor vocals, as evidenced by his solo delivery of “Bang!”
For closure, Selby’s warm-toned crooning brings us into touch with the temporary nature of all things in “Being Alive” (from Company), Moreno desires to turn back the clock in “Like It Was” and finally, the entire company brings us back to the present as “Old Friends” (from Merrily We Roll Along).
MCT audiences who normally love the intimate setting will now appreciate its new stage floor and crystal-clear microphones (managed by Sandy Ganio and Wendy Reader and lighted by Josh Huss). The scenic design by Selby is elegant yet simple, with alternating green and white curtain legs on the backdrop, walnut plank flooring, and blonde chests which double as seating. Indispensably, since the performance space is too small to host a live orchestra, music director Kim Dickman has outdone herself with a self-recorded soundtrack to best showcase the singers. The score balances campy vaudeville with juicy ballads, and the singers execute complex harmonies with agility. Choreographer Kim Cole helps transition the songs into the fabric of the blended plotline.
(Disclaimer: The critic occasionally ushers at MCT. She auditioned for the production, but as Doris Day so famously sang, que será, será.)
DETAILS: Putting It Together runs through Sept. 8th. It performs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays Matinees. (Saturday August 24th has a 2 p.m. matinee only.) Tickets cost $29 to 31 and can be purchased by calling 321.723.6935, by visiting MyMCT.org or by clicking on their ad.Kristin Springer is a Master Music Educator who grew up in Florida and holds a graduate degree from New York University. She offers private vocal coaching, piano lessons, Triple Talent and Music Readiness classes out of the Springer Music Studio. For a link to her studio’s Facebook page, click here.