The musical revue has long been a staple of the American musical theater scene. From “Lend an Ear,” which gave Carol Channing her big break, to “New Faces of 1952,” which introduced Eartha Kitt and Alice Ghostley, audiences have enjoyed this lighter, friendlier show for many years.
A variation on that theme: the tribute revue featuring songs from the pen of one composer (or composing team) has become quite popular as well. Most prominent of these, Side by Side by Sondheim, is the current effort at the North Coast Repertory Theatre.
The revue has over 30 songs and features various sections tied together by the Narrator, who explains what show the song comes from and adds witty comments that in some cases are filled with local references. The show nicely compares and contrasts Sondheim’s favorite themes: marriage and relationships in general.
The cast is a particularly talented bunch of performers with heavy stage credentials. The standout, Randall Dodge, has an exceptional voice, wonderfully elegant diction, and heaps of musical comedy style. He shines brightly in “I Remember,” a little-known piece from a TV production in the '60s, “Anyone Can Whistle,” and “Could I Leave You,” from Follies. He is also superb in duets with Angelina Reaux, singing “You Must Meet My Wife, from A Little Night Music, and, with Rena Strober doing “The Little Things” from Do I Hear a Waltz?
Reaux, owner of a gorgeous, classically trained voice, does a funny rendition of “I Never Do Anything Twice,” and the sparkling “Ah Paree!” though her version of “Send in the Clowns,” seems oddly reserved. “The Boy From,” from The Mad Show, is a screamingly funny take-off of “The Girl From Ipanema,” and she gives “I’m Still Here,” from Follies, a delicious punch.
Strober, a versatile performer, delivers “Another Hundred People” in a less strident manner than most presentations, and is a knockout in “Broadway Baby” and "Losing My Mind,” both highlights from Follies. She also pairs successfully with Reaux in “Can That Boy Fox Trot,” and with Dodge in the haunting “Barcelona,” from Company.
Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper gives a smooth, glib performance as The Narrator, and fills in nicely in many group numbers. His “Being Alive,” with a flat, muddled tone, is a disappointment.
Some numbers went to the wrong performer or group of people, and therefore failed to grab the audience’s attention. Chief among them: “Pretty Lady” and “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” though Dodge gives the latter his best.
David Ellenstein directs with a keen understanding of the material and lots of showbiz splash.