The premise of Whiplash Theatre’s first show for 2009 is good. In the year of Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday it is a grand plan to reinvigorate the 1976 revue Side by Side. In Side by Side, twenty plus songs from the early part of Sondheim’s career are woven together by a (somewhat dated) narration. Pieces from Follies, Company, West Side Story and Gypsy all get a look in during this 2 and half hour show directed by Gregory Jones.
Unfortunately, “disappointingly average” is the phrase I would use for this production. If you are a fan of Sondheim (and most people will be able to find at least one song they love) it’s hard to fault the brilliant lyrics and melodies he has created. Sadly, an inconsistent cast and weak narration ensured that some of Sondheim’s magic was lost to the Opening Night audience at Subiaco Arts Centre.
Whether nerves got the better of the cast or it was a lack of confidence and rehearsal but the majority of songs lacked the passion and polish to bring the show to a professional level. The five singers (Gillian Binks, Casey Edwards, Sherry-Anne Hayes, Tim How and Simon Loughton) and narrator Ross Bryant all stumbled noticeably at certain points, turning what could have been a brilliant show into something more resembling a rehearsal.
I have to mention the frustratingly loud “calling” of the show by the Stage Manager. Sitting close to the centre aisle I could hear every cue he gave to the lighting operator. It was unbelievably distracting.
Although the studio is small, sitting in the middle rows I found the singers were hard to hear on occasion. Regrettably, because I prefer sound to be natural, a little miking would not have gone astray in this performance. For the most part their diction lacked the precision Sondheim songs really need – a notable exception being Gillian Binks in Getting Married Today (from Company).
Other highlights included Binks’s touching rendition of Send in the Clowns; Loughton and Binks with You Must Meet My Wife (both from A Little Night Music), and Edwards’s performance of Losing My Mind (Follies).
Simple set pieces and costumes put the spotlight firmly on the music. Tim Cunniffe and Harry Oliff faced each other on matching grand pianos, bringing the music to life without (noticeable) fault. The arrangement of the scores for two pianos was effective and the musicians playing brought a level of professionalism to the production that would otherwise have been lacking.
I have seen some of these performers before and know they are capable of much more outstanding work. But, for whatever reason, this production lacks the spark to turn it from average to A grade.
Whiplash Theatre presents
Side by Side
by Stephen Sondheim
Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre, Hamersley Rd, Subiaco
Dates/Times: 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13 February 2010 @ 7.30pm
Matinee: 7 February @ 2pm
Tickets: $34 / $27 Concession
Bookings: BOCS 9484 1133 | www.bocsticketing.com.au