Conceived, designed, and directed by John Haldoupis, After Sondheim, a new musical revue, is a collection of songs from musical theater pieces by newer and younger composer-lyricists. Haldoupis considers them possible successors to Stephen Sondheim, the current king of American musicals. With three unlikely exceptions, they all write both words and music for their shows. And variously they all seem to be influenced by Sondheim. That's as much connection as we get in this songfest, performed by a fine group of local singer-actors.
Throughout the show Mark Alan DeWaters plays piano and conducts Jeff Weil, percussion, and Reggie Devers, bass, behind a scrim curtain to produce first-rate accompaniment and remarkably full sound. As music director, he is also presumably to be credited with the able arrangements and singers' vocal polish. Haldoupis' staging of the numbers is varied and attractive, but if this entertaining concert were to be packaged to play on tour, it would need smarter-looking costuming, makeup, and lighting.
The efficient set, however, frames projections of still and moving pictures that are imaginative, evocative, and handsome. The fascinating black-and-white Depression-era film of lower-class street life accompanying the Mother's song, "Back to Before," from Ragtime seems at times to be choreographed to Stephen Flaherty's music and to illustrate Lynn Ahrens' lyrics.
But that theatrically effective moment illustrates one of this show's problems. Several songs need more information about context to have much impact. And these illustrations have nothing to do with Mother's song to Father about the impossibility of getting back to a less troublesome, racial situation, not just former times.
The other song from the Flaherty-Ahrens lyric-music partnership, "The Human Heart," is a pretty, full-company number here, but without any of its dramatic point in Once On This Island. And, since I don't share the admiration many feel for another musical by separate artists, Violet by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley, I don't think its inclusion a good choice --- particularly as an act one finale.
That, however, is the basic nature of a revue: the various parts that make up its plotless composition will be variously appreciated according to the audience's individual tastes. Generally, I think Haldoupis has chosen fairly wisely in order to showcase newer musical-making talents; we are indebted to him for gathering these gems to show us.
I was knocked out, for instance, by a classic blues number, "How Did We Come To This?" by the enormously talented, but usually comical Andrew Lippa. It's a real discovery for me. My other favorite selections --- other than songs from the well-established Ragtime and The Secret Garden --- are excerpts from tick, tick... BOOM! (an early show by Rent's Jonathan Larson) and numbers from William Finn's A New Brain, though in fairness I should say that I'm familiar with them because I saw an early version of that show.
A separate item, Finn's disappointing dirge in memoriam for the 9/11 tragedy, is better forgotten. And omitted. In fact, as an evening's entertainment, this overlong revue needs to trim off about a half-hour. It doesn't make much theatrical sense, anyway, to slow things down to a crawl with three lullabies and a tragic memorial dirge immediately before the brief, upbeat finale.
And, in fact, as an evening's entertainment, this overlong revue needs to trim off about a half-hour. It doesn't make much theatrical sense, anyway, to slow things down to a crawl with three lullabies and a tragic memorial dirge immediately before the brief, upbeat finale.
The entirely attractive, talented cast are mostly familiar performers: Maureen Brainard, Cara D'Emanuele, Chandra Downs, Ronald S. Herman, Jens W. L. Hinrichsen, Erin R. Koch, Kristy Kosko, Jeff Miller, Dawn M. Sargent, Matthew Tappon. They deserve your attendance and support.
After Sondheim,conceived, designed, and directed by John Haldoupis, plays at Blackfriars Theatre, 28 Lawn Street, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. through October 23. $22. 454-1260, www.blackfriars.org