Simply Sondheim

Review

Simply Sondheim

Review by Doug Gallant

The Guild Summer Festival, July 6, 2023

Actor Mandy Patinkin once described Stephen Sondheim as the Shakespeare of the musical theatre world. That Patinkin was probably right was brought home to me again this week at The Guild where the music and lyrics of one of Broadway’s most prolific composers, and arguably one of its greatest innovators, was handsomely showcased in Simply Sondheim. Because we are not exposed to Sondheim with the frequency we once were, we tend to forget sometimes just how much of the music we have come to know and love over the past several decades bears his stamp. 

Simply Sondheim

Through his work on musicals like West Side StoryInto The WoodsSweeny ToddCompanyA Little Night MusicPacific Overtures and Sunday In The Park With George, it can be said that Sondheim literally redefined the Broadway Musical. And that is clearly in evidence in Simply Sondheim which brings together music from so many of his musicals.

To bring music like that to the stage is no small feat because his music has many layers and his lyrics are not the moon in june fare that has been the stock and  trade of so many Broadway  productions for so many years. His lyrics are at times complex and written with the intent of directly advancing what he wants his characters to say or to feel or to do. He was definitely not one for penning filler. And while so much of his material was serious, Sondheim also had a gift for creating music and lyrics that would put a smile on your face, like “Not Getting Married” from Company, which is in this show, or “Worst Pies In London” from Sweeney Todd (which is not in this show).

To sell such diverse material to an audience requires a cast of highly versatile actors, particularly in the case of a production like Simply Sondheim because there are no lavish sets to distract you, no splashy costumes, and no grand orchestra.

What you do have are four talented actors with great vocal chops in Jessica Gallant, Becca Guilderson, Hugh Ritchie and Braedon Woods, and an accomplished accompanist in Jennifer Cullen who barely draws a breath while keeping it all together. Christopher Wilson, artistic director of the The Guild Summer Festival, served as both director and choreographer.

Gallant, Guilderson and Ritchie are familiar faces. Gallant spent six seasons at The Charlottetown Festival, before spreading her wings across the country. Guilderson and Ritchie are the stars of Anne & Gilbert. Woods only recently moved to PEI but brought theatre credits with him from across the country. Together they treat their audience to some of the most beloved material from Sondheim’s extensive catalogue. And while many of his most iconic works are served up here, so too are some of his lesser known works, making for a truly representative portrait of the man and his music.

If you’re hoping to hear material like “Losing My Mind” or “Broadway Babies,” both from Follies, “Pretty Women,” from Sweeney Todd or “Send In The Clowns” from A Little Night Music you’ll find them all here. You’ll also find material like “Being Alive” and “Not Getting Married,” from Company, “Everybody Says Don’t,” from Anyone Can Whistle,  and both “Not A Day Goes By” and “Our Time” from Merrily We Roll Along.

Between solo pieces and ensemble numbers, there are more than 20 Sondheim songs in the show and everybody in the cast has their moment in the spotlight. Several in fact. And they make the most of every number.

This is an evening well spent.