America’s Greatest Living Composer-Lyricist Honored at Crest Theatre
By Skip Sheffield
It is safe to say that Stephen Sondheim is America’s greatest living theatrical composer-lyricist. “Side By Side By Sondheim," which continues through Aug. 9 at Crest Theatre in Delray Beach, is a glowing tribute to the cerebral composer. It is all the more glowing because of its performers, cast by Bruce Linser under the banner of MNM Productions.
The performers are Shelley Keelor, Alix Paige, Leah Sessa and Wayne LeGette. Shelley Keelor played the deranged mother in the Slow Burn Theatre production of “Carrie.” Alix Paige was most recently seen in the lead role of Aldonza in Wick Theatre’s “Man of La Mancha.” Leah Sessa performed in Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of “Company” and “Camelot,” and she often sings for after-show entertainment at the Wick Theatre. If you have been to any live theater in South Florida you have probably seen Wayne LeGette. LeGette is a seasoned performer if there ever was one.
Created in 1976, “Side By Side” includes some of Sondheim’s best-loved and most popular creations as well as some offbeat and obscure material. It is not fair to pick favorites, but I must admit I was most impressed with Leah Sessa, who showed off her verbal virtuosity in “Getting Married Today” and plumbed the depths of despair of a failing marriage with “Losing My Mind.” However, it was Sessa’s duet with Alix Paige on “I Have A Love” that quite literally moved us to tears. Sondheim wrote the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s music for “West Side Story,” which first catapulted Sondheim to stardom as a boy wonder. Sondheim is 85 now and happily still alive. He has never topped the perfection of “I Have A Love,” which expresses the fine, uncontrollable madness of romantic love as expressed by Maria (Sessa) to her sister Anita (Paige). Sessa shows her comedy chops by crawling all over musical director Paul Reekie’s grand piano in the silly bossa nova number “The Boy From…” from Mary Rodgers’ obscure “Mad Show.”
Shelley Keelor gets to sing another moody masterpiece, “Send in the Clowns,” from the bittersweet “A Little Night Music.” She also underscores the stern resolve of “I’m Still Here,” from “Follies.”
“Side By Side” is really a showcase for the women, with Wayne LeGette filling the role of all-around utility player. Along with the words and music you will learn some interesting biographical information on Sondheim. Though there are only two musicians onstage, Paul Reekie and bassist Dave Wilkinson make it sound like a symphony. Writing 400 years ago, Alexander Pope cited as genius “What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed.” He could have been writing about Stephen Sondheim.
Tickets are $34-$40 with $20 student rush. “Side By Side” will also play Aug. 13-16 at the Rinker Theater in West Palm Beach. Go to www.delraycenterforthearts.org or www.kravis.org.