Side by Side’ is a family friendly overview of Stephen Sondheim’s early career with great vocal performances

Side by Side by Sondheim
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Sooner Theatre
101 E. Main, Norman

To celebrate the 80th birthday of the prolific American composer and lyricist, Sooner Theatre stages the 1976 musical revue “Side by Side by Sondheim,” featuring songs from the first two decades of Stephen Sondheim’s career.

Some of the standout performances include “Getting Married,” “Another Hundred People” and “Drive a Person Crazy” from “Company”; “A Boy Like That” from “West Side Story”; and “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” from “Gypsy.” The show also features songs from “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Pacific Overtures.”

The cast opens the show in a kind of multicolored business casual that gives way to some more interesting costume changes in later numbers, especially for the ladies, who get to sport some beautiful dresses, while the guys get a few tuxedo numbers and then it’s back to the shirt and tie.

The show is free of sets and, for the most part, props, focusing the attention on the cast and the star of the show: the music. The vocal performances are fantastic across the board. The talented cast of singers is accompanied by pianist Leslie Downs, who turns in an impressive performance which, thankfully, is visible to the audience. Downs and his baby grand are positioned onstage, often providing a lovely silhouette against the colorful backgrounds.

Sooner’s production features a nine-member cast, while the original production of “Side by Side” only had three, requiring some gender-bending costuming to fill out some of the songs with male actors performing female parts in drag.

While there’s no drag in Sooner’s production, there is one holdover from the previous incarnation, in which David Duty performs “Could I Leave You,” a song usually sung by a woman. In what would have probably been more cheeky in the original context feels like a rather bold choice on its own, and Duty’s great performance amounts to one of the most interesting parts of the show.

Whether the fact that half the songs are from “Company” and “Follies” and that all of Sondheim’s later works are pretty underrepresented is a good thing or bad thing is going to depend largely on your taste. Personally, I was a little disappointed with the selections in this prepackaged revue, but applaud the execution of them by the cast and musician.“”Eric Webb


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