Review: Side by Side by Sondheim

Circa’s production of Side by Side by Sondheim was a fantastically fun evening of entertainment.

Stephen Sondheim is one of the world’s greatest composers and lyricist. He has won eight Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards, an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

The revue came about in 1976 when a cast member of A Little Night Music was asked to help do a revue for a small theatre and he suggested
a revue of Sondheim material. Sondheim was asked for permission and said “By all means try, but I can’t think of anything more boring except possibly the Book of Kells”.

Sondheim was wrong and Side by Side became a major hit around the world. It first played at Circa in 1979 and returns 40 years later.

The three singers are all top performers – highly charismatic, strong voices and animated acting. Combined with Michael Nicholas Williams and Colin Taylor on the pianos, they give you a two hour festival of music. You learn about Sondheim and his successes and failures while you laugh and giggle at the songs.

The cast obviously enjoy the production immensely and it rubs off on the audience. The combination is a superb experience. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying the show.

There were a couple of glitches. Sarah Lineham’s microphone gave some intermittent static for the first half hour or so, which got annoying. Possibly as a result of that Lineham was slightly difficult to hear in a couple of solo parts. Later on there were no problems, so I suspect it was just a teething issue.

Julie O’Brien had the most fun parts, and her facial expressions combined so well with her singing. Matthew Pike rounded off the top trio with great verve and ability.

I don’t get out to the theatre as much as I used to, since becoming a parent. But I’m glad I managed to make this production as it was such great fun. It’s also inspired me to see some more Sondheim musicals when I am next overseas.

Rating: ****1/2