Wishing Well Theatre Brings Shakespeare to Fenton

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

It was a perfectly beautiful evening Saturday as Wishing Well Theatre, Inc. launched their inaugural production of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Staged in Rackham Park in Fenton with a generous crowd assembled, folks gathered in lawn chairs to watch this romantic comedy unfold.

As is often true of Shakespearean shows outdoors, this one has been tweaked to occur in a vineyard in the 1950s.  Now if that sounds like fun, it is! The action is centered on a platform with a grape arbor on one side and a stack of wine kegs on the other. Even as the sun went down, lights strung about created a lovely mood.

The owner of the vineyard is Leonato (Anthony Guest) who welcomes to his home a group of soldiers passing through. One, Claudio (Jalen Wilson-Nelem) has been attracted in the past to Leonato’s daughter Hero (Destiny Dunn) and feels that now might be the time to ask for her hand in marriage.

Claudio’s commanding officer, Don Pedro (Doran Berger) offers to help Claudio overcome his shyness by doing the matchmaking for him. It works well at first, but much is set to go awry.

Meanwhile, Claudio’s fellow soldier (and confirmed bachelor) Benedick (Ricky Phillipi) renews his touchy relationship with Leonato’s niece Beatrice (Rebecca Phillipi). These two offer lots of the title’s “ado” as they argue and perhaps connect.

But there is conflict afoot as Don Pedro’s brother, Don John (Dryden Zurawski), with the help of two companions, Borachio (Merek Alam) and Conrade (Edmund Alyn Jones), contrives to spoil the match between Claudio and Hero by spreading “alternative facts” about Hero’s virginity.

Although things do go horribly wrong, they are put to right when a well-meaning group of comic town officials spring to the rescue, uncover the plot and save the day!

We must mention a few other standouts in this show including Margaret, (Mary Paige Rieffel) companion to Beatrice and Hero, and the locals, Constable Dogberry (Karen Sheridan), her assistant Verges (Robert McGowan) as well as the two bumbling but effective Watchmen, John Coggins and Brian Haggard.

Director Carolyn Gillespie has gathered a talented and locally recognizable troupe to mount this clever and most enjoyable production. We congratulate everyone involved in bringing the Shakespeare Festival to Fenton and to launching Wishing Well Theatre Inc.

Much Ado About Nothing continues September 12, 18 and 19.  Open at 6 pm and the play begins at 7:30 pm. Lawn seating, bring a blanket and/or a lawn chair.  Visit online at Eventbrite.com and Facebook.com/wishingwelltheatreinc

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“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, the Musical” Opens to an Outdoor Venue and an Enthusiastic Crowd

Reviewed by Karla Froehlich

The new kids on the boards have good trouble – too much talent! Broadway Bound and Brewer’s School for Performing Arts unveiled their debut production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the Musical to an intimate and appreciative crowd at the Clio Amphitheater Thursday evening. I was moved to tears by being in a theater setting after so long and by the marvelous, open faces greeting me from the stage.

What does one do when there are a plethora of potentials for a given part? Double cast, of course! While not every role has doubles, many do, and it compels me to see another run at this material. Every actor exuded the commitment to the material and each little light shone brightly.

 From the start of the opening number, hitting every nuance, and blending their harmonies with an air of performing beyond their years, I knew these kids would not disappoint. Strong and true singing voices, committed actions, and working together with fresh challenges, these young people told incredibly entertaining stories. I have had the pleasure of working with several of these young performers and to witness their progress and growth was joyous. They did their jobs well and suspended my disbelief. Congratulations to the entire production team principally Don Brewer – Artistic Director, Rafael McDaniel – Music Director and Rebecca Brewer – Choreographer!

The set is simple, with blue sky and friendly, fluffy clouds up center, which is flanked by hard leg flats painted with squares – each one representing the color or pattern of the main characters’ costumes. Sight gags are some of my favorite devices, and set designer, Peter Cross, did not fail to provide giggles, “Edith Ann” style.

Every performer put their all into their stage time and convinced us that they were five and six years old. What a fun age to explore! Thank you, Mr. Charles M. Schultz.

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown continues at the Clio Amphitheater through this weekend with five more performances starting tonight at 6 pm followed by two performances both Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 6 pm.  Tickets are available at the door. For more information contact the box office at 810-379-8980.

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Dark Room Production Opens in Flint

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

Flint has long been home to an impressive number of live theatre groups over the years, so it is no surprise to see another one seek to join the ranks. However, the fact that this one came all the way from San Francisco, California to set up shop here may surely evoke curiosity in many.

Operating in the mission district for the past 14 years, Dark Room Productions has become well known for their parodies. They begin here in Flint with two Twilight Zone stories lampooned here with a hint of whimsy and grins, but with the original tales mostly intact.

First we saw the story of “Four Characters (in search of an exit)”. A MAJOR (Jordan Climie) wakes up to find himself alone in a seemingly empty room. Oddly, he is quickly joined by a fairly full-blown CLOWN (Gil Hall) who wants to have an answer for the Major’s questions, but turns a terrific cartwheel whenever he can’t find one!

Two more characters join the duo to lend their own confusion to where they came from and where they’re going. The BALLERINA (Samantha Tadajewski) is sweetly unsure while the COWGIRL (Rachel Nagy) seems just as “in the dark” as the rest! So, where are they?

Of course Rod Serling (Chase Gifford) knits these tales together in his inimitable and measured way.  He also allows for breaks in the action for satirized commercials. 

The second tale is titled “The Lonely” and mostly stars Steve Reddy as CORRY, a convict marooned on an asteroid for a crime he denies committing.  Two astronauts played by Joy Bishop as CAPTAIN ALLENBY and Rose Adams as ADAMS  visit a few times a year to bring him sustenance and stuff including a robot to keep him busy. Although we only see ALICIA though the apron clad robot suit, Robb Anthony still manages to bring this odd machine to life.  

            The relationship that develops between CORRY and ALICIA is weirdly convincing and even believable! In comparing the two versions there is a bit of liberty taken with the original, but that’s the idea, right?!

Produced by Erin Ohanneson and directed by Jim Fourniadis, these two are delighted to find so many interested theatre folks who appreciate their ability to gently spoof near classic shows.There is only one more night of this opening production, so scurry down tonight to the Flint Local 432, 124 W. First St., Flint, MI 48502.  If your sense of humor is quirky and you enjoy stories with a twist, it all starts at 7:30 pm. Be there!


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Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby182902714_4154135984616962_3783494174734306470_n-1

If you are a musical theatre buff, you will love this one! Written by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell with music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, Something Rotten! opened Thursday to a lively crowd of folks enjoying this 16th century send up of all things musical theatre. Filled with comic references and a host of energetic dance numbers, including tap, it is easy to see how it was up for so many awards when it opened on Broadway in 2015.

The story centers around the brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom (Daniel Ragan & Joe Hostnik), both theatre hopefuls who, alas, must compete with the hit of the century, Will Shakespeare (Perry Quarker, Jr.) who proves to be a somewhat less than honest opponent. Ragan portrays the older of the two with a bit of older brother style pomp and pushiness while the younger, Nigel, displays an amazing knack for writing the iambic poetry of the day even though he isn’t aware of his talent.

These three are central to this show both in song and dance as well as portrayals that offer a range of personalities. Indeed, we get to know them so well, it is a polished surprise when Shakespeare appears to steal the day. Quarker brings a flamboyance and bravado that works for him most of the time.

Finally, Nick consults a soothsayer (Donovan Leary) begging him to predict what Shakespeare’s next hit will be. A bit on the kooky side, Leary’s character looks into the future and predicts the Tragedy of Omelette. He also sees Cats and even singing nuns.  Often bringing a slight but comical off-centeredness to his predictions, he is always a treat whenever he appears to assist as the fellows work to triumph over the Bard.

Given this information, Nick and Nigel set out to put a bit of a quirky show – the world’s first musical, The Omelette. Of course, there is love interest afoot here with Nick’s wife, Bea Bottom (Laura Strong) and the strong connection that is growing between Nigel and Portia (Alexandra Cross). While a hearty song and dance chorus supports this show, these two gals are unique and talented on their own. Both Strong and Cross bring a sense of feminine determination to their roles that probably wasn’t there in 1499!

We must give credit to Frank Pitts for a terrific job directing both the stage and the music production here. The show moves well with set changes done smoothly. Although song and dance numbers are set to recorded accompaniment, they are perhaps the most well integrated we’ve heard in a long while.

Overall, Something Rotten is a unique, fun, comical and clever show that will surely entertain audiences. Opening night’s viewers loved it, laughed continually and applauded heartily often and loud!

Something Rotten continues at Fenton Village Players Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Rd, Fenton, MI 48430 – July 16th, 17th, 23rd 24th, 30nth and 31st at 7:00 PM and July 18th, 23rd, and August 1st at 2:00 PM. For more information contact www.fentontheatre.org

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Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

            Clio Cast and Crew kicked off summer with Michael Parker and Susan Parker’s comical production of Sandy Toes and Salty Kisses. The title derives from the motto given the hotel long ago by the owner to promote it as a wedding venue thus reaching a specific style of guest. While more than just wedded bliss is on the table here, there is lots of intrigue and fun to be had as well.

            We first meet Candy (Jessi Eldredge), the new hotel receptionist who, among other responsibilities, also manages to make her share of mistakes often sending guests and the hotel into mix-up’s and mayhem! Eldredge plays her character with a bit of a daft look that often explains her penchant for mistakes and comic repentance.

            We find that Audrina Brown (Paula Price) has inherited the Lovers’ Landing Beach Hotel from her recently deceased father. It will be her unfamiliarity with the place that will lead her Uncle Bubba to take center stage in running this place. Price brings a sweet Southern belle style to this role even if her accent causes her to slow the tempo a bit.

As Wilberforce “Bubba” Brown, Larry Stecco has a good grasp of his double role first of handyman and then as extravagant female stand-in for the absent wedding planner. His transitions are pretty smooth and comical even if the womanly role is well over the top!

            With a wide reputation earned over time, the hotel has no trouble attracting the wealthy and entitled Beatrice Rutherford-Smythe (Mary Smith Powers) to check out the place for the wedding of her daughter, Traci Rutherford-Smythe (Dawn Sabourin). Unimpressed with her daughter’s choice of a husband however, she immediately begins finding reasons to call this wedding off.

            Powers is properly prim at first even as she begins to emerge from her proper shell. She is fun to watch as her struggle to maintain her decorum gives way to her true feelings after all.

            Of course the simple wedding squabble won’t hold the comedy long. It isn’t until the arrival of a gentleman named Doug (John Dunning) who is assigned to the room Traci had reserved for her fiancé that things begin to get dicey.

           Soon followed by Peter (Alex Weiss) who is the actual fiancé, the plot begins to unravel as poor Peter is placed in a different room. Of course, the two are mixed up, and we begin to think we’re watching a Shakespearean comedy with all the crossed wires and conundrums!

            Also, Sabourin was great as she steamed back and forth deciding whether her lover is to be trusted or not. Her enthusiasm is terrific!

            Written by British writers Michael and Susan Parker, the Bard’s comedy fits in quite well. Director William Kircher managed to keep his stage pretty flexible even with a lot of folks to deal with at times. We found the set design to be charming with its turquoise and coral motif and flower bedecked Tiki bar, exits and entrances.  

            The tempo is slow at times, especially in the first act with all the new folks being introduced. Overall, this show should pick up steam with time and will be even more rollicking than Friday’s audience found it to be!

            Sandy Toes and Salty Kisses continues at Theatre 57, June19, 25 & 26 at 7:30 pm and June 20 & 27 at 2:30 pm. For more information contact the website at

www.cliocastandcrew.com or find them on Facebook at Clio Cast and Crew, Inc.

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Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

It was leap day, 2/29/20, the last time we set foot inside a theatre to view a live production. So Friday’s venture to see Flint Community Players’ production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was highly anticipated. Funny and wholly satisfying, it signaled a return to the familiar even if some aspects retained remnants of 2020’s isolation

A comedy, this play was perfect for this moment in time. We all need reason to laugh and to remember when, and Earnest gave us that opportunity. Much was different – only an audience of 30 or so were seated with some arranged in three up front rows while others were at various tables for two. It definitely was comfortable even with everyone wearing a mask throughout the evening.

The cast were wearing windowed masks. They were also wearing microphones which helped the sometimes muffled speech that can happen in a mask.

Director Shelby Coleman has assembled a quite competent cast for this society piece set in late 19th century England. Two good friends, John Worthing, also known in some circles as Earnest, (Jordan Climie) and Algernon Moncrieff (Dakotah J. Myers) come together in Algernon’s home where Worthing reveals his intention to propose to his friend’s cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax (Taylor Boes). Moncrieff has his reservations and suspects his friend of ulterior motives. After some give and take, and the exposure of Worthing’s supposed wastrel brother Earnest, Algie agrees to help his friend propose.

Gwendolen arrives escorted by her mother, Lady Bracknell (Rolecia Looney). Boes prances and snaps her fan at all the right moments generating more than a few chuckles Friday. Looney carries her role as a society matron of pompous stature well. Each entrance brings a warning that the real decision maker may be in the house.

The proposal happens but there is the odd determining factor as she insists that her attraction is largely because his name is Earnest. The plot twists.

As he learns more about Worthing’s family, Algernon is attracted to Cecily Cardew (Lindsey Briggs), John’s ward who lives in the country. Pretending to be John’s “brother” Earnest, he abandons his bubbly Algernon persona and ultimately proposes to Cecily who eagerly accepts him. She too is enamored of fellows named Earnest!

With everyone pretending to be someone else, the comedy increases in Acts 2 and 3 while the plot takes even more curious twists and turns.  Who is John Worthing really? Is there a brother Earnest? How might Cecily’s prim governess, Miss Prism (Joy Bishop) figure into the mystery?

Three other cast members do figure comically beginning with Lane (Zachery Wood) the manservant in Algernon’s house who sets the comic if slightly frustrated tone right from the start.  The Butler (Richard Neff) is the height of patience and elderly competence as his orders change frequently. Finally, the Rev. Canon Chasuble (Philip Kautz) humbly strives to please everyone and winds up finding a friend.

Aside from some mask muffled speeches, most are clear enough to carry the dialogue nicely.  As Director Coleman describes the Rick Doll designed sets, they are very like a children’s pop-up book. The cutout style of hand painted flower bushes in Act 2 is especially fun. They are a further reminder that this show is meant to be unrealistic, fun and imaginative.

Kudos to FCP! It was a great way to reintroduce us, the quarantined masses, back into a evening of fun, conversation and of course, theatre!

The Importance of Being Earnest continues May 15, 21, 22 at 7:30 pm and May 16 & 23 at 2:30 pm. For more information contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

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Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler

         Clio Cast & Crew opened their new season with a strong performance of David MacGregor’s Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Elusive Ear.  They had goodCovid protocols in place including taking everyone’s temperature.  No one seemed to mind.

            The cast wore plastic masks and they used body microphones.  The masks didn’t distract from the performance and the drinking of various liquids was handled well.  We had no problem hearing or understanding what was said.

Playwright MacGregor always takes some small item and expands it into a play.  You never really know what is going to happen in his plays.  He really keeps the audience guessing.

            Director Jim Waner did a great job of casting the show. The cast looked comfortable working together, and there was a lot of chemistry. The give and take between the characters was fun to watch.  They were energetic and kept things moving along.  They were all very believable.

            The set was well done and was well used by the cast. 

            Jeff Rogner in the role of Dr. John Watson was spot on with his performance.  He and Sherlock were well matched.  His whining about their lack of money was well played.  His Victorian attitude about the relationship of Holmes and Irene was also good.

            As Sherlock Holmes, Jordan Reed played this character in a more relaxed manner which was done well.  There was considerable chemistry between him and Irene.  When it was necessary, he slipped smoothly back into the traditional Sherlock character.

            Jessi Eldredge played her two roles, Mrs. Hudson and Irene Adler, extremely well.  She looked like she was having fun.  Her fencing scene with Marie Chartier was well choreographed. 

            Rebecca Norris gave a strong performanceas Marie Chartier.  She and Irene were well matched.   

            Seth Reed as Vincent Van Gogh gave such a good performance that he could have been the painter, and Kaiser Henning’s Oscar Wilde added much to the chaos and mayhem on stage.

            The Ear, the main topic of concern, made a grand entrance at the end of the play.

            Overall, it was fun to watch.  There were several small issues.  When the gun was introduced both Marie and Oscar held it in their downstage hand thus limiting their range of movement.  There were also a couple of minor blocking issues involving Holmes at the fireplace. 

            The costumes for the most part were well done.  Marie had a problem unbuttoning her outfit for the fencing part, and the green dress did seem a bit large for her.

            I strongly recommend that everyone go see this play.  It’s a strong production.  To find out how Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve this mystery, you have to see a performance.  Performances of Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Elusive Ear are:  May 8, 14, 15 at 7:30 pm, and May 9, 16 at 2:30 pm.

Tickets maybe purchased online at ClioCastAndCrew.com or by calling the box office at 810-687-2588. Theatre 57 is located at 2220 West Vienna Rd., Clio, MI 48420

Due to pandemic restrictions, seating is limited, mask wearing will be required at all times, and social distancing will be observed in all areas of the theatre. Temperature checks and other safety measures may also be used.

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FVP Presents Convent Comedy

Reviewed by Karla Froehlich

Fenton Village Players bravely took the stage in clear face shields to deliver their first live performance since the pandemic began and brought some good-humored pandemonium with their irreverent production of Drinking Habits Thursday evening. A limited live audience provided well-deserved laughter and interaction for the actors.

Like any great farce, the set includes several options for characters to conceal themselves, because nearly every character has something to hide. Some are seekers, some hiders, but all harbor secrets. Many set pieces in this sparse convent setting are also cleverly utilized. We noted the opulent stained glass windows in contrast to mismatched doors one might find in a struggling relic of the Catholic Church.

Director Daniel Ragan had his actors utilize the entire space well throughout most of the show. However, near the end, when every character is on stage, it got a bit claustrophobic. That is the nature of farcical theatre when all is revealed. The layers in this piece are realized as the plot thickens. Mistaken and purposely concealed identities abound, as well as a plethora of secrets. This cast is diverse in experience and Ragan did excellent work in melding these talents into a cohesive and fun adventure in this less than two-hour long production.

This cast includes giving actors who could have, but didn’t, steal the show. These actors were so gracious with each other, it was like they were tithing. “Evenly yoked” springs to mind. Great theatre was provided by (in order of appearance) Jennie Ross, as Sister Augusta; Judi Santo, as Sister Philomena; Jacob Riley, as George; Joy Bishop, as Mother Superior; Nolan Splavec, as Paul; Shannon Cody, as Sally; Megan Morey, as Sister Mary Catherine; and Richard Hingst, as Father Chenille. The cast met the challenge of projecting their voices past their masks and should receive a separate round of applause for that alone.

Fenton Village Players are offering this production to a small in-person audience or online. While there is still much to be learned in this technical endeavor, I enjoyed viewing from the comfort of my couch and don’t feel I missed the feel or energy of the show. (There’s even a bit of humor regarding the provided intermission!) Support local theatre and your actor friends in the community…it’s always a pleasant surprise!

Drinking Habits continues at Fenton Village Players, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton MI today through February 28th and March 5 through the 7th. You can attend either safely in-person (masks required) or virtually via Zoom! For more information contact the box office at (810) 750-7700.

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Clio Cast and Crew Presents Unique Approach to Holiday Classic

Reviewed online by Mary Paige Rieffel

The year is 2020 and live theatre has been on pause for about 10 months. The performing arts community has valiantly shown its perseverance and passion for continuing to create from the get-go by utilizing the virtual world to share creative content. It is a testament to our own community to see people at a local level make art happen and distribute it (in this case for free even). 

This morning I masked up and braved the outside world for last minute stocking stuffers and libations for the coming Christmas holiday. The whole while I found myself giddy to have to be home by a certain time in order to see a show. As much as I miss performing, the pangs I feel for being an audience member do rival it. 

I made myself a cocktail, sat on my bedroom floor, and brought Joseph Zettelmaier’s Ebenezer by Clio Cast and Crew right to my television via YouTube. 

The play begins with Ebenezer Scrooge (Jordan Reed) years after the events of A Christmas Carol, ill and under the care of nurse, Alice (Rebecca Norris).  We learn he is indeed a changed man from the events he is famous for in A Christmas Carol. Reed did very well playing a character well above his own years and remained engaged throughout the very long and wordy exchange with Norris who also displayed her acting chops by remaining measured and grounded as well as being able to characterize three different characters through the action of the play. We learn that Ebenezer saved her life many years ago, and we are transported to the past to watch how the story unfolded. 

Alice was caught picking a pocket by the now charitable Ebenezer and a familiar character, now a grown man and apprentice to Ebenezer, Tim Cratchit (Jeff Rogner). 

I must truly say that the clear face shields they used were not distracting to me (other than possibly causing the wonky audio on Ebenezer’s microphone). The full facial expressions were clear and there was enough expression physically and vocally from the actors to keep the story up and moving. 

We flash back to the “present” and the weighty discussion on virtue, fate and leaving a legacy continues. Tim, now, Timothy, even more grown than before and a Royal Naval Officer, arrives in the Christmas Eve hospital bedchamber. During this scene a fun exchange concerning Americans from a faux Dickensian point of view occurs that I quite enjoyed. 

Ebenezer goes into another fit nearly throwing himself out the window calling and hoping for the famed spirits to once again appear. He then tells Cratchit the story of his famous journey many years ago for the very first time resulting in an emotional outburst from the troubled Timothy. 

Finally, this very interesting script arrives at a point where Timothy and Alice are seen as possessed by the Spirits of Christmas Present and Christmas Past. They proceed to convince Ebenezer to take up the mantle of The Ghost of Christmas Future. He reluctantly accepts as long as he can be a harbinger of hope rather than doom, which the previous incarnation that he met at his own grave at the climax of the original tale proved to be. 

He passes peacefully.  Alice and Timothy lament his death but rejoice in the lesson of his legacy.  

Director William Kircher is to be applauded for this unique effort. The camerawork and editing was very tight and the costuming and set designs were clean and effective. It all assisted the story telling very well.

Although the energy and laughter of a live audience would have helped the nuggets of potential humor in this piece, I found this production to be just great. I commend anyone putting in the time to make and produce art this year. Theatre is a vibrant and tenacious art form, and I can’t wait for all theatres along with Clio Cast and Crew to continue to create, whether it’s online or live. 


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Sondheim’s 90th Virtual Birthday Celebration Brings the Feels

At the writer’s request and because we are all missing live theatre right now, THIS!

Reviewed online by Mary Paige Rieffelsondheim

On Sunday evening, via YouTube, Broadway.com presented a star-studded live-streamed extravaganza to celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday. Titled Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration, the event was also a fundraiser for ASTEP, a program that brings the arts to children in poverty all over the world.

The event displayed how we can utilize technology to fill the void of live performance in the current times, which is really an amazing thing. However, it was not without technical difficulties. The live stream began a full half hour late, and the first six minutes consisted of the host, Raul Esparza speaking…without audio. It was not until after 9 p.m. that things finally started rolling. One of the evening’s performers, Judy Kuhn said after the event, “This is why nothing can replace live theatre…” While I do wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment, once the show really began, it gripped me in an immediate and totally different way than any live show I have ever seen.

The show begins with two instrumental selections, absolutely appropriate for a celebration of Sondheim. While every layer of Sondheim’s work is impressive, his orchestrations are second to none. Stephen Schwartz plays the prologue to Follies, displaying how beautiful the melodies are just on their own. Next was the overture from Merrily We Roll Along. It was such a delight to see the faces of the conductor and the musicians. It sparked a real and sincere sense of respect to well up in me for musicians everywhere.

Another solid critique of this virtual format that I cannot omit from this review is advertising. ADS. The first half of the show had an ad in between every single song. Alas, realizing full well that ads are what make this sort of thing free to watch, I will leave my dismay there.

As an artist it was hard not to feel emotional as each guest spoke on the influence of Sondheim. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly intimidated reviewing the roster of talent and musical selections that I am set to reflect upon. Sondheim is often compared to Shakespeare, and with good reason. There is a certain complexity and subtext to this body of work that nearly makes it it’s own genre. It takes a deep-seated love of musical theatre and a somewhat sophisticated ear to digest the work. It takes an even greater level of skill and talent to perform it. Technically, yes (Sondheim’s orchestrations are notoriously difficult for musicians and vocalists alike) but to speak the speech that is Sondheim is a unique skill that is hard to explain. You just feel it.

The performances were (pre-recorded) and submitted by Broadway heavy hitters from start to finish. There were no Hollywood stars thrown in to cast a wider and more appealing net as this was an event for theatre lovers! It was so great to see these stars in their home studios, bedrooms, and bathrooms even, with headphones in, emoting their faces off. For me, the greatest thing watching this as a performer was that it felt like a master class. Sondheim has a way of easily wringing out melancholy and longing, but to see the faces of experts up close, laser focused, telling a story, uvulas wagging, and perfect embouchure on display was fascinating and inspiring. If you have young performers at home or are currently studying voice or theatre, plan to watch this and take notes.

The first 45 minutes were full to the brim of the earnest ballads of Sondheim. Selections from lesser-known musicals seemed to be a popular choice for many of the artists, and I took many names down to further explore some titles. There was also a high volume of selections from Sunday in the Park with George, a very well loved musical by Sondheim purists, and while I understand why it is so cherished, it is not one that I personally hold so dear. Of course, this is coming from someone that would have been very content with two hours full of songs from Sweeney Todd and Assassins, selections from those musicals being smartly sparse and carefully chosen. I will say, though, not being a particular fan of Sunday in the Park… Mandy Patinkin casually singing “Lesson #8” acapella, outside, in a field, was pretty spectacular. In the back half of the show Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford’s duet of “Move On” was breathtaking and immediate. While everything was so expert in the front half of the show, at this point I was ready for a change of pace.

No sooner had I jotted down in my notes “ready for a change of pace” did Randy Rainbow burst into a delightful rendition of “By the Sea” from Sweeney Todd. There was also a back to back, one two punch of comic relief from Linda Lavin performing a nearly unknown spoof of sorts of “Girl from Ipanema” titled “The Boy From…” (listen to the song you’ll understand the ellipses) and “Buddies Blues” from Follies performed in a rolling office chair by Alexander Gemigani.

Arguably the climax of the entire event was “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company, performed by Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, and Audra McDonald, which I am sure you have seen shared once or twice on your social media since Sunday if you surround yourself with theatre folk.

The event ended, appropriately with Sondheim’s muse, 72-year-old Bernadette Peters singing the all-purpose tearjerker, “No One is Alone” from Into the Woods…acapella of course.

As I mentioned previously, reviewing this incredible display of musical theatre talent, became increasingly daunting the more I sat with the work. But that is because it was all so accurately emotional. Sondheim has a way of writing songs that bring specificity and universality, at the same time. And that’s why we love it, study it, and produce the shows over and over again.

Take Me To the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration is available for free on YouTube and runs approximately two and a half hours, with an intermission whenever you like!

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