Monday, June 10, 2024

"Being Alive: A Sondheim Celebration" ★★★ BANG

No one is more beloved in theater circles than Stephen Sondheim, who
passed away in 2021. His musicals such as "Company," "Sweeney Todd" and "Into the Woods" are triumphs within the musical canon. After Sondheim's death, many of his songs became available for licensing. Robert Kelley and William Liberatore have collected thirty-six of these and organized them thematically into a chronology of those complicated relationships Sondheim loves to write about: we meet, lust and get together, followed by marriage, kids, boredom and breakup,  We get an entertaining evening of lightning-fast lyrics and plays on words, brilliantly executed by a super-talented six-person ensemble, 

Solana Husband is excellent as Sally. Her "The Miller's Son" from A Little Night Music is a standout as is "Agony Reprise" from Into the Woods, sung and acted by Nick Nakashima and Noel Anthony. We also loved Melissa WolfKlain's "The Wedding is Off," from Sondheim on Sondheim, She seemed to know what she was talking about.

Many ensemble numbers are skillfully done, like the opening "Invocations and Instructions to the Audience" from Frogs and Putting it Together, and the title tune "Being Alive," from Company.

"Being Alive" succeeds on many levels, but is somewhat hamstrung by conditions placed upon it.

For example, many Sondheim songs were made available, but not all were, and there was a limit of three from any one show that could be used in a new show. In addition, no collaborations were allowed, which meant the glorious and tuneful songs written with composers other than Sondheim himself, such as Leonard Bernstein or Jule Styne or Richard Rodgers, were disallowed.

Sondheim loves melody, such as in "Send in the Clowns," but he loves changing cadences and polyrhythms more. If you already love this material, you will be in heaven. If you don't, you will jump with joy when you hear the few tunes you can sing back in the car. 


Quentin Quarternote, The San Francisco Theater Blog Music Reviewer, is a notorious grump. He always wishes "Into the Woods" was a One-Act, for example. But he loved most of "Being Alive" and is granting THREE STARS for this production. We are adding a Bangle of Praise for the cast, who have had to learn to project challenging lyrics while changing tempos and dancing around a stage. This is tough stuff and all six pulled it off without a foxtrot-up. 

"Being Alive"
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Through 6-26-24