Review: Putting It Together by Austin Community College
by Michael Meigs
This is Sondheim song season. Not just because 81-year-old master incarnates the tunesmanship of Broadway of the last 50 years, but because his tunes and music so deftly capture the dreams of those sophisticates who have populated his audiences. Yes, his breakthrough was as the lyricist for West Side Story, but as this compendium song performance illustrates, Stephen Sondheim portrayed with wit and acumen the sentimental lives of Americans.
Dr. Jimmy Shepherd of Austin Community College has assembled a bright and attractive ensemble of six talented and confident students to perform with him and an eight-piece orchestra in Putting It Together, two hours of music that pauses only for a ten-minute intermission.
Sondheim cognoscenti will certainly place each of the 31 numbers in the appropriate theatre musical. The rest of us can treat this performance as a trove of unpredictable amusements and delights. The man knows the American heart and the full scale of gradations of love.
There's no plot in this presentation, strictly speaking, but there is a broad-brush depiction of themes. Shepherd and Amy Minor sing in four numbers as a moody married couple; Justin Langford is a romantic young man ripe for the picking; Jennifer Schmerber is the ditz who panics at her own wedding. Many of the numbers were new to me, simply confirming that during my decades outside the United States I missed out on much more than just American football and network television.
Putting It Together has the polish and sharpness of cabaret, transforming the unadorned utilitarian lecture hall at the ACC Northridge campus at least temporarily into a window on a New York state of mind. Eight orchestra members and seven singers in that non-acoustic space mean that the decibel level is high. With body mikes and precise diction the performers make sure that the messages are delivered as precisely as the melodies.
I'd be happy to see any of them onstage with an opportunity to develop a character in addition to a song concept. I felt like standing up and calling out, "Come on, gang, let's go put on a show!"
Devotees of Sondheim can catch Putting It Together at ACC's Northridge Campus, not too far from The Domain shopping center, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., for the modest general admission price of $8 ($5 for ACC staff and students).
And if you're eager for a second scoop: another Sondheim fest takes place at Austin's Dougherty Arts Center July 8 - 10, when the new Actor's Co-op with a cast of faces familiar especially from the Georgetown Palace will present Side by Side by Sondheim.
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