The IU Opera Theatre took on a terrific challenge in producing Stephen Sondheim’s song collection, “Putting It Together.” Stage Director Vincent Liotta wisely observes that it is “not a musical play, but more than just a revue.” And he’s backed up his observation with a very nicely staged production that dramatizes the Sondheim vignettes drawn from more than fifty years of work in the theatre. Characterizations and style were right up to the mark throughout. Robert O’Hearn’s nicely simple set followed the action with a colorful backdrop that ranged from the blue of the blues to the red of passion.. Musical Director Michael Barrett led the on stage duo piano, percussion and bass ensemble.
The main trouble with “Putting It Together” at IU is that the Sondheim pieces were designed for those cramped little Broadway theatres and they frequently got lost in the spacious domain of the Musical Arts Center. My tickets were for middle orchestra seats in the fourteenth row. I couldn’t hear a great deal of what was being sung in the first act and moved up to the empty third row for the second. Hearing was much better, but I had difficulty in reading the song titles as they were flashed on a screen high above the stage. It may be that following the opening, adjustments will be made but for Saturday my guess was that mid -seventh row was the best compromise
The cast is listed in a nicely apolitical alphabetical order, but the program offers no song credits. So sorting out individuals for credit is a problem. Sondheim’s music and the spirit of his pieces present some real demands for artists of any age. I’m happy to say that the cast handled both the characterizations and the music itself with great control. I can single out Trent Casey for an athletic and vocal tour de force of “I Could Drive a Person Crazy” and Melissa Korzec for a mesmerizing job on “I’m Not Getting Married.” Since it was more of a revue than a play, I did wish for a little more direct contact between the actors and the audience, but that may simply be beyond the scope of this production.With the complexity of Sondheim’s interweaving of his songs, especially in the first act, I can see why a fully detailed program was impossible. But perhaps a list of the major pieces with their artists could be added for this coming weekend’s performances.
Throughout his career Sondheim’s music and lyrics have been on the edge and adult. Although a little soft romance slips in from time to time in “Putting It Together,” it’s mostly about unhappy people either in or out of relationships. It’s a world of big city, country club, fancy, rich people. Although discontented, they act and sing pretty dramatically about it in a lot of creative ways.
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“Putting It Together” plays this Friday and Saturday nights at the IU Opera Theatre. The production is worthy of a fuller house than last Saturday night.