On ‘Sondheim on Sondheim’

Written By Alexis Wary, Staff Writer

With a line waiting for the theater doors to open, The Pittsburgh PlayHouse opened “Sondheim on Sondheim” on Wednesday, Oct. 19. The musical original directed on Broadway by James Lapine, presents a compilation of music by Stephen Sondheim alongside intimate interviews with Sondheim. 

Viewers get to experience a unique perspective of Sondheim’s life and how he became the composer that he is known for. Each musical piece is strategically placed to help tell the story of his life and how different moments correspond with his compositions. 

Once the overhead announcer declared that the show was beginning in 15 minutes, people took their last sips of their wine, checked in their coats, and headed into the Highmark Theater. 

The stage along with multiple sub stages and a drapery of curtains was set in the back corner. The audience was seated along the walls opposite of the stage in a half of a square formation. 

As the five piece orchestra tuned their instruments and practiced a couple scales, the anticipation for the show to begin was obvious. People settled in and slowly the chatter subsided when the light dimmed. 

The show opened with a powerful hook of an all company overture featuring small blips of songs by Sondheim. This then transitioned into a projection of an interview of Sondheim introducing himself. 

Throughout each musical piece, both in between songs and during, the interviews with Sondheim would input childhood experiences, anecdotes, comedic relief, and personal thoughts to explain each composition and the process of creating it. 

These interviews worked seamlessly with the cast members, the orchestra, and the behind the scenes lighting and audio. It was done so incredibly that it almost felt like Sondheim was sitting on the stage telling his story right in front of the audience. 

The first act featured the massive vocal talent that the company had. Each cast member brought forth independent and unique sounds that when in a collective was breathtaking. Each member represented different characters from different musicals throughout the musical. 

The pieces from “Passion” stuck with me unexpectedly and influenced me to learn more about this musical after the show. I had never seen “Passion”, but I was completely mesmerized by Gabriella Garza, Will Cobb and other members of the cast when performing the pieces “I Read,” “Is This What You Call Love?” and “Happiness.”

Jordan Threatt presented the audience with a strong performance of “Epiphany” from “Sweeny Todd.” He drew the audience by interacting with them along with tremendous vocals and expressions. 

The second act opened with a piece called “God” praising Sondheim for his work, while interviews of Sondheim project onto the curtains. His comedic nature shines through when he explains the process he goes through when creating music, which includes laying down, killing time by sharpening pencils, and relying occasionally on alcohol. 

This act also featured more serious tones, especially during “Beautiful” from “Sunday in the Park with George.” This song went along with Sondheim describing the complicated relationship he had with his mother, welcoming the audience into a very personal part of his life. 

Despite not knowing many of the compositions by Sondheim, I was invested throughout the show. Not having a major appreciation for musicals could make this musical a little more difficult to enjoy. 

If you are a person who grew up on musicals and loves seeing the hard work behind the scenes come to life with the cast and orchestra, “Sondheim on Sondheim” will touch your theater-loving soul in great ways.