November 2005

Dale Gutzman and company at Off The Wall Theatre, presented a rare musical comedy event, a staging of Stephen Sondheim’s  musical revue (called by him a REVIEW)  called   Putting It Together.”  Like most Stephen Sondheim shows, Putting It Together has lots more to it than first meets the eye or ear.  The title itself refers to the fact that the show is made up of over thirty Sondheim songs first used or cut from other shows of his. But it also refers to the structure of the show itself. The show is about putting together ideas of relationships and marriage. It focuses on a cocktail party at which four people and a narrator explore their own ambitions, longings, fear, desires, and doubts concerning love. We meet a couple who seem to have everything, but whose marriage has reached the stage of going through empty motions, and we meet two young ambitious guests who would love to change places with them.

When Sondheim was in Chicago several seasons ago with his show “Bounce” Gutzman talked with him over lunch about the delicate nature of the show. How it has to remain a revue, but still delve into the characters and their plight. It’s a character driven show, not a plot driven one.  The Sondheim Review, a magazine devoted to his works, a few years ago, named Gutzman one of the country’s “best Sondheim Directors.”  This new revue promises to be filled with the witty ironic side of the composer, but also features the kind of tug at the heart strings for which he is so well known. 

Music Director David Bradyworked for over a month with the cast of five on the difficult material. “This show seems to have almost every complex song Sondheim ever wrote. It’s a real challenge for the cast to simply learn it,” he commented recently.  It’s true, the songs in the show read like a list of Sondheim at his most brilliant and irritating.  Tunes in the ninety minute show include:  “Pretty Women,” “A Country House,” “Every Day a Little Death,” “Back in Business,” “Rich and Happy,” “Ladies Who Lunch,” “Leave You,” “Buddy’s Blues,” “Not Getting Married Today,” and many more. In addition, there are several songs Sondheim has written for films including, “Back in Business,” and “More.”  And a beautiful new five part harmony arrangement of “Being Alive.”  One curious number in the show is a version of “Do I Hear a Waltz” that has never been done before. This is not the song Sondheim wrote with Richard Rogers for the show of that name, but a solo effort written several years before. 

The cast for the revue consisted of Marilyn White, Bob Hirschi, Sharon Rise, Jeremy Welter, and J. P. Climente.  White, Hirschi, Rise, and Welter are all Off the Wall regulars, and J. P. Climete worked with Gutzman a decade ago and has since moved on to direct and choreograph on his own. Musical Director David Brady put together a taleted combo of musicians for the intimate Off The Wall space. 

As usual, Scenic Designer David Roper altered the entire theatre environment for the show. The audience entered through the set into the auditorium. The multi-level set consisted of four separate playing areas and a long staircase painted vibrant colors assisted by a myriad of rope lights and optical effects.