It's hard for me to be objective about the production of PUTTING IT TOGETHER at Syracuse Stage since I'm such a fan of Sondheim's music I'd have been able to sing along with all but three of the 30 songs in the show. Devised in 1992 by Julia McKenzie and Mr. Sondheim, it explores the relationships of two couples and a butler through songs that span over 20 years of Mr. Sondheim's career.
He describes the show as a "review," as it reviews songs taken out of the context for which they were originally written, like "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" from A FUNNY THING . . .. The music and lyrics are as complex and entertaining as the relationships of the characters. To quote from the title song, "Art isn't easy."
Felix Cochren, a designer new to me, has created a spiffy Art Deco living room, with two sets of elegant stairs curving up to a frequently used balcony. It looks great, especially with Josh Bradford's creative lighting. Maria Marrero's costumes are colorful and sophisticated, while Jonathan Herter's sound lets us catch every lyric.
Musical Director Dianne Adams McDowell has done a terrific job with the music. She and Jimmy Johns on percussion and synthesizer provide a sparkling accompaniment from an upstage corner of the set. I loved the Entr' acte, a lively version of "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" and the vocal arrangement of "Being Alive."
The five cast members are all fine actor/singers. The younger couple, Stephanie Youell and Tyler Hanes, are also terrific dancers. Miss Youell is especially effective on "Sooner or Later" as is Mr. Hanes on "Marry Me a Little." Andre Ward as the butler does a great job with the opening and also "Buddy's Blues." The three combine on a beautifully sung and danced version of "Bang!"
Tony winner Lillias White loses some of the fierceness in "Ladies Who Lunch," but mines every bit of humor in the bitter "Could I Leave You." She and Miss Youell give an affecting performance of "Every Day a Little Death."
Chuck Cooper, another Tony winner, has a wonderfully rich voice and does a beautiful job on two of my favorites, "The Road You Didn't Take" and especially "Good Thing Going." He and Mr. Hanes sound great together on "Pretty Women." Mr. Cooper's lead-in to "Old Friends" is a perfect example of believable acting for musical theatre.
Director/Choreographer Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj and his Associate Choreographer Gregory Daniels have done a fine job of directing and staging. I do question the unusually slow tempo on "Not Getting Married Today," as all the tension gets lost and it seems labored. Other than that, though, "Lovely" is hilarious, "It's Hot Up Here" is clever and "Hello, Little Girl" is sneakily funny.
I could go on and on, but I think it's obvious that I enjoyed the show, as did the audience at the performance I saw. It's a terrific collection of intelligent material in a very good production. As Andre Ward says in his opening speech, "If you're put off by the idea of thinking, go see MAMA MIA."
On a scale of one to five the Syracuse Stage production of PUTTING IT TOGETHER gets four and a third oranges. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.