Volume 92, Issue 70

Tuesday, February 2, 1999


In Dyer need of a change

Hemp album hangs itself

Show stopping revue at McManus

Show stopping revue at McManus

By Nancy Allen
Gazette Writer

Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim was once told to produce something an audience could hum along with. Side by Side provides ample opportunity for even the shyest of theatre buffs to not only hum, but belt out tunes alongside a sparkling ensemble cast.

Located beneath The Grand Theatre, the McManus Studio Theatre carries such a relaxed and comforting atmosphere, the audience can't help but feel apart of the show. Before the play begins, actors warm up on stage as the audience continues to filter in. From the first chords of "Comedy Tonight," Side by Side has its audience's complete and undivided attention.

Since Side by Side is a musical revue, it has no distinctive plot – but it doesn't need one. Sondheim's music and lyrics stand proudly on their own, each number becoming a plot within itself. The collection of songs about one-night stands, marriages to be, marriages in trouble, overbearing parents, cannibalism and crazy infatuation make for a hilariously satisfying evening.

Diana Coatsworth, Eric James, Michelle Lundgren and Andrew Petrasiunas perform the songs in their repertoire like they've never been performed before. This production is a refreshing combination of familiar songs such as "Send in the Clowns," from A Little Night Music and rare gems. The chemistry the cast exudes is intoxicating. The trio of actors and their accompanist seem to be having so much fun and this inevitably rubs off on the audience.

One of the cast's strengths is their incredible flexibility. One moment Lundgren and Coatsworth are young girls pleading with their mother to get married and next they are Anita and Maria from West Side Story arguing about Maria's love for Tony.

A brilliant example of a rare Sondheim tune is "Can That Boy Fox Trot," which was cut from the musical Follies. Once again, Coatsworth and Lundgren cut up the stage in a seductively hilarious tale about a clerk who can't dance but certainly can "ffffffff-fox trot."

Eric James delivers a whimsical and emotionally driven performance in "Anyone Can Whistle." A few songs later, the trio performs a memorable selection from Gypsy which includes James performing in a tutu.

Technically speaking, the show is flawless and song transitions are seamless. The lighting is provocatively perfect, especially in Lundgren's performance of "Sooner or Later" from Dick Tracy. The overhead spotlight cascades shadows and light in unison to create a seductive aura. The dancing in this show is particularly amusing and complements the witty and complicated lyrics nicely.

The second act is laced with songs which pull at the old heart strings – and definitely merits a few tissues in pocket. The slower selections still maintain the unity of the production and add a sense of calm, if not a welcome break from incessant chuckling.

The musical strength and wit of Side by Side cannot be overly stressed. Experience it. This revue has it all – animate acting, a wonderful score and truly something for everyone.

Side by Side runs until Feb. 13 at the McManus Studio Theatre. Curtain time is 8 p.m..

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Copyright The Gazette 1999