Back in 2015, Arlington’s Signature Theatre premiered their homegrown musical revue, “Simply Sondheim.” Signature’s former artistic director, Eric Schaeffer, and veteran musical supervisor, David Loud, co-conceived the revue. They handed the directorial reins to Matthew Gardiner, Signature’s associate artistic director, who staged it brilliantly. Ramping up the top-notch pedigree was the renowned Broadway orchestrator, Jonathan Tunick, who has had a long working relationship with Sondheim. The music was in the dexterous hands of music director, Jon Kalbfleisch, and a 15-piece orchestra that made Tunick’s orchestrations of Sondheim’s work sound amazing.
…pairs masterful performances with wonderful material for a satisfying musical revue that warms the heart and delights the ears.
“Simply Sondheim” is back in a different form, with the ability to keep audiences enthralled with the music and lyrics of the 90-year old master craftsman. This current streaming production takes the meat and bones of the 2015 production and adds some new muscle, making for a very healthy body and soul. The result is an even more delicious sample of Stephen Sondheim’s genius lyrics, quirky melodies, and pure artistry. Musical numbers from fourteen different titles — stage and screen musicals and motion pictures — are mixed and matched to maximum effect.
As I have said many times (and surely others have), Sondheim has been very good to Signature Theatre. “Simply Sondheim” pairs masterful performances with wonderful material for a satisfying musical revue that warms the heart and delights the ears.
Featuring a cast of some of Signature Theatre favorite performers, this show is in expert hands all around. Christopher Mueller, Katie Mariko Murray, Tracey Lynn Olivera, Paul Scanlan, Nicholas McDonough, Awa Sal Secka, Donna Migliaccio, and Bobby Smith are all familiar faces and voices from multiple Signature productions. In fact, Scanlan, Migliaccio, and Smith were in the original 2015 “Simply Sondheim” production. They all are a welcome sight here, even if the show is streaming online and audiences cannot see the performances in person.
Along with the regional talent, additional performers with Broadway and television credits join this iteration of “Simply Sondheim” and bring additional wattage to the production. The up-and-coming 26-year old actress and singer, Solea Pfeiffer, appeared in the 2020 production of “Gun & Powder” at Signature, after making her name as a young Eva Peron in the City Center revival of “Evita” and on the national tour of “Hamilton” as Eliza. In this revue, Pfeiffer lends her supple and powerful voice to great advantage on “Another Hundred People” (“Company”), among other numbers. A former cast member of TV’s “How to Get Away with Murder” and the Broadway revival of “The King and I,” Conrad Ricamora is another welcome addition to the show, featured in duets with Mueller — “Poems” from “Pacific Overtures” and the soaring “Finishing the Hat,” from “Sunday in the Park with George.”
Another Broadway veteran, with a connection to Signature, is Emily Skinner. Her Broadway credits include “Prince of Broadway,” and “Side Show,” and Signature’s “The Witches of Eastwick.” Skinner offers a gorgeous solo turn singing “Loving You,” from “Passion.” Last, but certainly not least, Norm Lewis (Broadway’s “The Little Mermaid,” “Phantom of the Opera,” and “Les Miserables,” among others) brings his expressive presence and rich voice to “Is This What You Call Love,” also from “Passion.” Skinner gets to tear her way through “The Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company,” which was one of her numbers in the 2017 retrospective of Hal Prince productions, “Prince of Broadway.” Lewis also shines in his other solo spot, with the anthem from “Company” — “Being Alive.”
How can a Sondheim revue not retread old material or present yet another version of “Send in the Clowns?” Not using that particular song, for starters. Schaeffer and Loud crafted this revue to allow for both well-known tunes, such as “Another Hundred People” and “Could I Leave You?” (“Follies”), with lesser known gems. Ensemble pieces like “Now/Soon/Later” and “A Weekend in the Country” (“A Little Night Music”) mingle with “Something Just Broke” (added for the London production of “Assassins”), and “The Hills of Tomorrow” (“Merrily We Roll Along”). Shows such as “Bounce” (an early version of what became “Road Show”) are featured along side more popular titles.
Several performers get to relive musical moments from previous productions, both at Signature and elsewhere. Bobby Smith and Tracey Lynn Olivera, part of the cast of Signature’s “A Little Night Music,” bring numbers to life again. One of the theater’s founders, Migliaccio recreated her turn as Mrs. Lovett from the second season production of “Sweeney Todd” and slid right back into the flour-caked apron. She also got to land one of the gold standard numbers for a seasoned leading lady and made “Could I Leave You?” her own.
Smith, like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, always makes song and dance look easy. He is a better singer than Astaire or Kelly, and here, we have him shining in “The Right Girl,” the heartbreaker from “Follies.” Smith and Nicholas McDonough deliver the charming father-son duet, “Impossible,” from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
With no weak links anywhere to be seen, other highlights include the warm, mezzo voice of Awa Sal Secka singing the early Sondheim piece, “All for You” (“Saturday Night“), and leading the ensemble in “Now You Know” from the early 80s flop, “Merrily We Roll Along.” Two leftovers from the pastiche score of “Follies” provides a romantic duet for Nicholas McDonough and Katie Mariko Murray, “Who Could Be Blue/Little White House.” Murray brings her charming presence to Cinderella’s star-spot in “On the Steps of the Palace ” from “Into the Woods.” Olivera joins Secka and Murray on the hilarious trio, “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” which also features engaging choreography by Gardiner.
Olivera’s remarkable voice makes the most of one of my personal favorite Sondheim songs, “Goodbye for Now,” written for the motion picture, Reds.
You want more reasons to point your browser to Signature Theatre’s “Simply Sondheim?” There are other solo moments, delightful duets, and stirring ensemble numbers included in this musical revue. If you have missed sitting in a darkened theatre and sharing phenomenal performances with some of the best talent around, this show is for you.
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: Recommended for adults, but suitable for ages 12 and up.
“Simply Sondheim” is presented streaming online by Signature Theatre. It is available February 2 – March 26, 2021. Click here for ticket information and to purchase single ticket access to the performance.