“Side by Side” sings a tribute to Sondheim

Haywood Arts Regional Theatre has done it again!

“Side by Side by Sondheim” is an enjoyable show full of witty banter, outstanding talent and beautiful music that showcase the esteemed Broadway musician and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. The small cast of six, singing to only a piano played by musical director and Western Carolina University professor Dr. Bradley Martin, packed a huge punch with their undeniable energy and chemistry.

Samantha Alicandri, Joshua Farrar and Jordana McMahon are spending their summer interning for HART. All three are members of Western Carolina’s musical theatre bachelor’s program. Alicandri and McMahon are sophomores; Farrar is a junior.

Joining them are two HART veterans, Lyn Donley and Cord Scott. Donley performs in “Side by Side” as part of her fifth season with the downtown Waynesville theatre. Other performances include “La Cage Aux Folles” as Jacqueline, “Lost in Yonkers” as Grandma Kurnitz and “Gypsy” as Mama Rose. Scott assisted in staging the show alongside HART Executive Director Steven Lloyd. This is Scott’s 10th season with HART. He, too, starred in “La Cage Aux Folles” with Donley.

The sixth member of the company is Nick DeVito, who recently graduated from East Carolina University and is taking a break from his home in New York to be a part of this summer’s season. He has worked in productions of “Legally Blonde,” “Seussical” and “Les Misérables.” DeVito also joins Alicandri, Farrar, McMahon and Scott in HART’s large summer musical production of “Brigadoon.”

“Side by Side” opened with Martin on the piano situated on stage right and a small bar set up on stage left. Long shimmering golden streamers, occasionally changing colors through lighting design by Lloyd, provided the background for the entire production. All six members entered the stage through the streamers for the opening song “Comedy Tonight” from the musical “Forum.” In between a few tunes, the cast members would give narration about Sondheim’s life.

Scott performed most of the introduction, saying that what the audience was about to see was more of a “show,” and that the production held little to no plot. However, if you as a theatre-goer wish for a plot, it would be too easy to mentally come up with one of your own. For this reporter, I pictured the group portraying exaggerated versions of themselves as they mocked stereotypes of theatre actor personalities. The six actors were sitting up in their New York City studio apartment, wondering how to spend their evening. One of them gets the grand idea to pull out their giant box of make-up and costumes and go down to the local bar where Scott tends bar. For one night, they borrowed the stage to perform their favorite numbers by Sondheim with Martin, the bar’s pianist, somehow knowing exactly which song they would sing next (How very “Glee” of him!). While one or two performed, the others sipped on drinks provided by Scott. It was comedic how those at the bar barely paid attention to their friends performing, as if they had seen that song and dance time after time in their tiny NYC flat. We, the audience, were the other patrons of the bar/night club, enjoying the typical nightlife of New York City.

Act I moved quickly and burst with fun, fast songs that were greatly received by the audience. Crowd favorites included “Getting Married Today” from “Company,” where McMahon pleaded and begged not to get married to Farrar while standing at the altar. Small in stature, do not underestimate the power of McMahon. She belted out the lyrics of each song with a gusto and conviction that will blow you away. Hopefully, McMahon alongside Farrar and Alicandri will soon appear on the WCU stage, especially with the musical theatre program trying to tackle “Les Misérables.” After this performance, the three are sure to shine in the overwhelming Claude-Michel Schonberg musical.

Portraying the madam of a brothel, Donley also took many cheers in another favorite with her rendition of “I Never do Anything Twice” from “The Seven Percent Solution.” If you want a bit of extra fun, buy a ticket in the front row or in the front aisle seats. Donley will flirt, tease and entertain with her hilarious song full of innuendos and jibes, while running her pink feather boa over the front members of the audience. Farrar is a bright spot in “Marry Me a Little,” reminding me of a young Neil Patrick Harris with his bright face and light voice. DeVito and Alicandri’s performance of “Barcelona” carried flawlessness in their portrayal of the two lovers, and the punch line was perfectly delivered by DeVito.

Act II was significantly slower and dragged somewhat. The first number, “Everybody Says Don’t” from the production “Anyone Can Whistle,” had the group bursting back onto stage, but immediately, the mood became somber and stayed that way for most of the act. “We’re Gonna be Alright” and “Gotta Have a Gimmick” picked up the pace, but the show quickly resumed its somewhat gloomy reprises.

However, that does not mean the cast exhibited any less talent or gusto. Eyes teary, Scott brought down the house, causing several sniffles throughout the audience, as he crooned “Losing my Mind” from “Follies.” Scott strikes a musical resemblance to actor Matt Bomer with his rich voice and intense expression while performing such ballads. DeVito, Farrar and Scott performing the number “Pretty Lady” from “Pacific Overtures” was a haunting tune that required great skill as the men overlapped each other’s voices in a perfect harmony. The show closed with the only number appropriate for a show with such a title, “Side by Side” from “Company,” which gathered a standing ovation.

“Side by Side by Sondheim” continues at HART on July 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m., July 7 at 3 p.m., and July 13 and 20 at 2 p.m. Adult tickets are $22, senior tickets are $18, and student and teacher tickets are $10. Tickets can be purchased at the HART box office, over the phone or online at their website www.harttheater.com. The big summer musical “Brigadoon” opens on July 12 and runs every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Aug. 4. For more information on the shows, schedules and tickets, call HART at 828-456-6322.