Lyrics & Lyricists: Sondheim: Wordplay

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Lyrics & Lyricists

Sondheim: Wordplay

The 92nd Street Y, NYC, March 31,2019

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

The genius of Stephen Sondheim as a composer and lyricist is inarguable. Yet, it’s the latter talent that has the greater virtuosic edge, with an output unparalleled in the history of the American musical theater that may never be surpassed. Sondheim is a master of wordplay––the manipulation of language to achieve specific meaning: puns, double entendre, alliteration, tongue twisters, wit and so on. Sondheim has done it all.

Representing his work as a lyricist, “Free” (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) illustrated the repetitive use of the word “free” to create an amusing scenario. From 1964’s Anyone Can Whistle, Melissa Errico conquered the tongue twister “Everybody Says Don’t” with ease. The actress was the standout of the cast, which also included the pleasant Telly Leung, the energetic Christopher Fitzgerald, and the facile Lewis Cleale, as well as Lauren Worsham and Lesli Margherita––two strong singers who also tend to be shrill in the upper registers. Errico, in character, was stunning in her delivery of “Send in the Clowns” (A Little Night Music) and “Loving You” (Passion), among others.

Although there were many well-known works presented, the real treat was hearing numbers outside the Sondheim box. “The Two of You” (Worsham) was written in 1952 and rejected by the producers of the Kukla, Fran and Ollie television show. The Arthur Laurents 80th birthday song (to the tune of Gypsy’s “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” music by Jule Styne, sung by Margherita impersonating Ethel Merman) was funny on those two levels, while “Multitudes of Amys” (Fitzgerald), cut from Company, and “Uptown/Downtown” (Worsham), cut from Follies, illustrated how musicals often progress from one idea to another. The penultimate song, one that’s become synonymous with Sondheim, “Finishing the Hat” (Sunday in the Park with George) was sung with depth by Cleale.

Ted Chapin, Lyrics & Lyricists producer, co-wrote and co-hosted the presentation with lyricist Jack Feldman. The “dueling podiums” transcended the academic approach with informative yet succinct and keen writing and Christopher Gatelli’s efficient direction. Projections by Dan Scully added tasty visual eye candy. Music direction and stage left piano by Richard Carsey gave the perfect balance of support to the singers, along with Andy Einhorn on stage right piano and Paul Pizzuti on drums and percussion.

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.