Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Every Day A Little Death

September 22, 2009

The cast of Putting It Together
Photo: South Coast Rep 2009

Is Sondheim like sex and chocolate? I would argue it is. At least to the extent that like the others, it meets the old qualification that even when Sondheim's bad, it’s still Sondheim. Which was my thought after seeing the South Coast Repertory revival of Putting It Together this past weekend. Not that the production is bad. It’s actually quite serviceable. It’s just that it isn’t great and it left me thinking – well, it is Sondheim still, isn’t it? Putting It Together is essentially a revue. It incorporates songs from several other works and arranges them in such a way as to imply a story line for a group of five performers. The action takes place over the course of a dinner party in the upscale condominium of a New York couple. There’s not a lot of plot to it and most of the action focuses on the relationship stress faced by an older couple and the potential romantic interminglings of their younger male and female guests.

However, the show is really about the songs, and there are many great ones here. Several of them are delivered with a fair amount of insight and emotion. I was particularly taken with “Sorry/Grateful” from Company performed here by Harry Groener. In fact, Groener had his hands in many of the best numbers including “Old Friends”, “Country House”, and “Pretty Women.” The other cast members struggled to live up to his standard vocally and acting wise, though no one was cringe inducing. Matt McGrath who was excellent here in Los Angeles a few year’s back in Robert Wilson’s The Black Rider returns as a far more human and urbane young man. He's witty, but burdened with what appears to be a high school prom outfit complete with shiny vest and tie which does him no favors. Dan Callaway was rather All-American if a bit pitchy at times. The two women in the cast, Mary Gordon Murray and Niki Scalera were plagued by rather poorly tailored and garish costumes. In fact the whole staging seemed like a bit of a period piece with the midtown condominium dining room ensconced specifically in the early-to-mid 1980s.

Or at least it seems like the Orange County idea of a New York penthouse. In any event, even when the quasi-story begins to unravel as it stretches for some way to logically include "Gun Song" from Assassins, it's always possible to enjoy these theatrical songs for what they are. If you're not familiar with the music, I'd highly recommend you go despite some of the clumsiness.

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