Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sophisticated Summer Musical - Putting It Together at Skylark Opera

Because I've had this in my head since I saw the show ...
Bit by bit,
Putting it together...
Piece by piece-
Only way to make a work of art.
Every moment makes a contribution,
Every little detail plays a part.
Having just a vision's no solution,
Everything depends on execution:
Putting it together-
That's what counts!
Well said, Stephen Sondheim! Putting It Together is a marvelous musical revue that left me pondering which cast album I'd be racing home to listen to.  (Verdict: A Little Night Music, followed by Merrily We Roll Along.)

A quick description from Skylark:
Experience Sondheim’s clever musical exploration of two relationships — one budding and one mid-marriage — at once witty and tender, set at an elegant Manhattan cocktail party. Songs culled from familiar shows like Sweeney ToddInto the Woods, and Merrily We Roll Along illuminate Sondheim’s keen understanding of how we think, interrelate, and protect ourselves from heartbreak.

Photo by Matt Bellin

Written specifically for Julie Andrews as a star vehicle and put together by Sondheim himself with Julia McKenzie and longtime orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, this is a smooth, sophisticated, and cohesive musical revue, fabulously performed by five wonderful singers and actors, who like the greatest of musical theater actors, not only sing the songs, but act the hell out of them. Although it is a musical revue, their skill (and Sondheim's) creates character through songs that gives wonderful amounts of depth.

The outstanding performer here is Emily Gunyou Halaas, who is frequently seen on Twin Cities stages, but who knew she could sing, too? She is a revelation in the role created for Julie Andrews, bringing a legitimate sound and serious acting chops to each and every song. But each performer contributes something unique to the revue. Paul Coate, a veteran of the Skylark stage, is hilarious as the observer who both takes part in the story and explains it, mostly through one-word or phrase introductions to scenes. Jeffrey Madison is charming as the husband with a wandering eye, and his real-life wife Vicki Fingalson is assured and feisty as half of the younger couple. Her counterpart is Gabriel Preisser, who displays both a wonderfully rich voice and a light comic touch.

Each of the performers has at least one standout number, which I won't share here. Part of the fun of this kind of revue is listening for the next song and realizing how it fits with the scenario. Many plays are represented in addition to the ones listed above, including A Little Night Music, Company, Follies, Sunday in the Park with George, and more. There are rather too many songs from the film Dick Tracy, but I blame that on the timing of the revue, just a few years after Sondheim wrote songs for the comic-book movie.

Without an actual plot, the clearly defined characters and cleverly chosen songs create a flow that carries the show along, merrily. Sondheim's songs are witty and wise, many with new or slightly revised lyrics to fit the situation. But most of the songs work perfectly with their original words intact. For someone who wasn't in long-term relationships until fairly late in life, Sondheim wrote more than almost anyone about relationships and especially marriage. He illuminates not just the beginnings and endings of love affairs, but the sometimes murky time between, with humor and empathy.

Putting It Together is an effervescent evening with five wonderful performers and their terrific band providing the perfect entertainment for a summer's evening. It runs just one more weekend, through June 20, so get your tickets now!