Montgomery College Theater Serves Excellent Food, “Side by Side” Entertainment

This year’s show is the revue, “Side By Side By Sondheim,” featuring a wide variety of music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. (Dinner and show – $20.00. Reservation Information: 936-273-7021) Presented in the Commons Building of the college, the show was preceded by a lovely dinner. Guests had a crisp garden salad with Italian dressing, a medley of steamed vegetables with wild rice, and an entree choice of Orleans Chicken (prepared with a sauce of artichokes and mushrooms), or Swedish Meatballs. Sugared pastry with strawberries and whipped cream was a delightful finish with coffee or tea. Then, it was on to the main course: A delicious Broadway revue of the extensive Sondheim repertoire.

The show was ably directed by Jami Hughes, with outstanding assists from Musical Director/pianist, David Englert, and his fellow pianist, Caleb Ackerman. The opening selection, “Comedy Tonight” (from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) was a bright, cheerful tune. It was well executed by the youthful six-member cast, which included director Hughes in a rare appearance on the stage side of the footlights. The great harmonies of the song’s conclusion were a promise of things to come. The ensemble gave more melodic delight with a “Love Is In The Air” that featured gentle, effective choreography. The simple but effective set and lighting design (David Marco) included just a few stools, and a foil ribbon curtain.

Ms. Hughes’ students and talented fellow actors were Wesley Fruge, Leslie Harlton, David Kerr, Christy Mooring and Holland Vavra. They were well prepared for the many very difficult Sondheim selections on the bill. The first vocal for Hughes came in her charming “If Momma Was Married” duet (from “Gypsy”) with Holland. If the pair was a bit too cutesy at times, they made up for it in the smooth blending of their voices. Sound levels in the room were excellent as well, and the two pianists were up to every difficult task Sondheim would provide.

Another nice duet was “You Must Meet My Wife” from Christy and David. It played well as a scene, with a sweet ending. One could not help but note his exceptionally fine voice and ease of delivery. This number was followed by the somewhat kooky, “The Little Things,” that was given nice treatment by Wesley and Leslie. “Can That Boy Foxtrot!” was an amusing quartet by the ladies that apparently had so many daring double entendres that it was removed from the show “Follies.”

From time to time there were bits of dialogue between songs. Some of this is rushed in delivery and difficult to hear. We learn that Sondheim was born in New York, but moved to Bucks County when he was ten. Oscar Hammerstein was a neighbor and an important influence on the young, would-be composer.

In a segment featuring tunes from “Company,” the title song had smoothly rising harmonies and sounded like Broadway to me. I thought how nice it was to be in such an intimate setting with the performers. Then came “Another Hundred People,” with Hughes demonstrating “trippingly on the tongue” in this intricate song about the comings and goings in a city of strangers. “Barcelona” provides another theatrical scene with David and Christy facing separation as her stewardess character heads for Spain. The two play well against one another, and his voice is again a knockout!

“I Never Do Anything Twice,” originally commissioned for the film, “7 Percent Solution,” has sultry Holland (in sunglasses, dark hat and holding long cigarette holder) looking like she popped out of “Cabaret.” Indeed, this sounded like the kind of odd song Liza Minelli could make sense of, but it was not one we long to hear twice.

There were several songs from “Follies.” In “Beautiful Girls,” the boys vocalize beautifully while the gals strut their stuff on the runway in absurd headgear. In “Ah Paree,” Leslie takes on a real tongue twister of a lyric that most singers would never attempt. Wesley had yet another frenetic challenge with “Buddy’s Blues.” If I detected a bit of nervous energy during that number, I couldn’t blame the singer a bit. Christy’s “Broadway Baby” was not always key-perfect, but it was full of joyful pizzazz. In “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” (another song from “Company,”) Holland, Leslie and Hughes combine their talents well.

Act Two began with a spirited “Everybody Says Don’t!” from the ensemble. Then came a highlight of the night with Mr. Kerr singing the title song from “Anyone Can Whistle.” He was mellow, commanding, and confident. He seems able to alternate power and subtlety perfectly with a very full range. It would be easy to forget this is a student and not a professional, and he proves it again in a passionate rendition of “Being Alive.”
There was much more, including an articulate “Getting Married Today” led by Holland, and a hauntingly beautiful “Send in the Clowns” from Leslie. And Hughes had perhaps her best moment singing “I’m Still Here!” As she begins her fourth year as Director of Theater at Montgomery College, I suspect both students and administration must be very glad she is!

(The Courier    7.21.01)

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
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