Make us your home page
Instagram

Review: 'Sondheim on Sondheim' at Freefall captures a genius in song

Between songs, the composer chats at length on video about his rocky childhood, career choices, relation-ships and writing rituals. 
Photos by Steven Le

Between songs, the composer chats at length on video about his rocky childhood, career choices, relation-ships and writing rituals. Photos by Steven Le

ST. PETERSBURG

To paraphrase Woody Allen, what can you say about Stephen Sondheim that he hasn't already said much better about himself?

Allen was talking about bombastic sportscaster Howard Cosell. The dilemma, though, is a familiar one to anybody trying to explain someone else's hugeness. Director James Lapine answered that challenge concerning Sondheim with a Broadway revue, Sondheim on Sondheim, and it's a pretty successful way of doing it.

Now Freefall Theatre has taken up the challenge of doing justice to one of the most astounding popular composers of all time. In Sondheim on Sondheim, performers sing selections from 18 musicals, hopping across boxes decorated with scribbled notes and lyrics. Between songs, the composer chats at length on video about his rocky childhood, career choices, relationships and writing rituals. This dimension, plus tons of added clips from Sondheim's public life, gives the show more depth than two previously staged anthologies, Side by Side by Sondheim (1976) and Putting it Together (1999).

This is a delightful show. It combines some stellar singing with top-tier acting in the likes of Ann Morrison, whose Broadway debut in Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along won her a Theatre World Award. There is a range of repertoire but it all works.

The best part is what we learn about Sondheim. Reclining on the sofa — just as he writes, with Blackwing pencils and a shot glass nearby — the composer narrates his parents' divorce when he was 10 years old; his subsequent emotional bond with a friend's father, lyricist and playwright Oscar Hammerstein, who taught him how to write a song; and a bit of his inner life and the wounds he still carries. Sondheim also gives the inside story on some significant business decisions, such as deciding to take Hammerstein's advice and write the lyrics for West Side Story.

Director Chris Crawford has cast eight singers so as to bring out the best. Highlights include Larry Alexander and Floral City native Kissy Simmons (who played Nala on Broadway in The Lion King) in Loving You (from Passion); Simmons in Ah, but Underneath (Follies); Freefall artistic director Eric Davis singing Epiphany (Sweeney Todd); Nick Lerew in Franklin Shepard, Inc. (Merrily We Roll Along); and Morrison in Send in the Clowns (A Little Night Music).

And really, that's just scratching the surface.

Some players take on multiple roles. Davis designed the set. Resident company member Kelly Pekar acquitted herself well as a cast member and designed costumes. Michael Raabe directs the orchestra and plays keyboards. All of those elements combined for a most enjoyable evening, one that gives a glimpse into the mind of a creative genius, throwing in some laughs along the way.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

Sondheim on Sondheim

The show runs through runs through April 10 at Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $20-$43. (727) 498-5205. freefalltheatre.com.

Review: 'Sondheim on Sondheim' at Freefall captures a genius in song 03/18/16 [Last modified: Friday, March 18, 2016 6:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pasco Events for Aug. 25-31

    Events

    25 Friday

    Feeding Pasco's Elderly hosts inaugural Leadership Breakfast: The Pasco County Elderly Nutrition Division/Feeding Pasco's Elderly will host this east Pasco event to mirror the Ambassador's Breakfast fundraising event that has been held the past two years on the county's west side. County …

  2. Local craft beer of the week: Cherry Pastelitos, Coppertail Brewing Co. in Tampa

    Bars & Spirits

    On Saturday, Tampa's Coppertail Brewing Co. will celebrate its third anniversary with a Florida weisse festival, showcasing densely fruited tart wheat beers from more than a dozen Tampa Bay area breweries including, of course, many of its own brews in this summer-friendly style.

    Center: Coppertail Brewing’s Cherry Pastelitos. Flanking it are Coppertail’s BOMP (blood orange, mango, passionfruit), left, and Pinky Swear (pink lemonade-flavored).
  3. 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' opens run at Show Palace Dinner Theatre

    Stage

    The Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson takes a nostalgic swing through the 1950s and '60s with its production of Smokey Joe's Cafe, which opens Aug. 26. The local offering of the longest-running rock 'n' roll revue in Broadway history features the legendary pop tunes of hit makers Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber. …

    A local production of the 1950s and '60s musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe" opens Aug. 26 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson.
  4. 10 things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 24

    Events

    Lalah Hathaway: A Grammy Award-winning jazz and soul singer. 8 p.m., Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. $34.50-$69.50. (813) 274-8982.

    HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 03:  Recording artist Lalah Hathaway performs onstage during the BET Presents Super Bowl Gospel Celebration at Lakewood Church on February 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for BET)
  5. How to make a Strawberry Banana Smoothie

    Cooking

    Don't enjoy breakfast but need to get something in your stomach? Cranky around 3 p.m. and need a jolt of energy? Have trouble getting your daily recommended fruit servings? This smoothie is the cure for all of that and more. It's become my morning go-to. The secret ingredient here is kefir, a probiotic product that's …

    Strawberry Banana Smoothie. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.