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THEATER REVIEW: “Sondheim On Sondheim”

Sondheim fans will be ecstatic over “Sondheim On Sondheim,” the revue of some of his most popular hits over the years playing through March 1 at the Avo Playhouse.

The show had a limited Broadway run in 2010 and features several songs each from his biggest hit shows (“Company,” “Follies,” and “Into The Woods” among them) along with lesser-known songs from other shows.

But what sets this show apart from a revue like “Side By Side By Sondheim” is a series of interview clips from the man himself – some about his early life, others about his work habits and how he composes – interspersed throughout. I was surprised to find that we have something in common: we both took short-term piano lessons twice, he for two years each, I for one. Clearly he got more out of them than I did.

But we don’t share much in musical taste. In my opinion, his best work by far was as lyricist on Leonard Bernstein’s classic “West Side Story,” and the disclosure here that he didn’t want that job probably tells me all I need to know about my lack of emotional response to most of the songs he composes.

But I digress. Avo Playhouse offers three really fine singers and three pretty good ones – backed by six excellent instrumentalists led by Elan McMahan.
DJ Gray directs the show, and W. Dixon Fish’s simple but versatile set provides the background. The singers – Ashlee Espinosa, Melissa Fernandes, Charlie Gange, Eric Hellmers, Heather Lundstedt and Jason Webb – pour their hearts and voices into this two-hour extravaganza.

Fernandes gets Sondheim’s signature tune “Send In The Clowns,” and true to form for this performer, knocks it out of the park (not the one with George). She and the excellent Jason Webb have a good time (and so do we) with “You Could Drive A Person Crazy.”

I loved the close-harmony quartet version of “Something’s Coming,” and I was happy to hear Heather Lundstedt’s lovely soprano on the little-known “Do I Hear A Waltz?” (Richard Rodgers wrote the music for this 1965 show I’ve always liked but have never seen.)

Sondheim is a cultural institution, there’s no question about it. Fans should flock to see this show, where along with his “greatest hits” you will probably learn a few things about him and hear some of his music you may not know either.

The details

“Sondheim On Sondheim” plays through March 1 at Moonlight Stage Productions’ Avo Playhouse in Vista, California.

Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or HERE.