I was surprised to discover that Putting it Together : Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim was “devised” by Stephen Sondheim and Julie McKenzie. Make no mistake about it. Putting it Together is crisp, smart and urbane, sometimes haunting, sometimes melancholy, sometimes furious or searching, but always authentic. My one disappointment (and it’s very possibly slight) is the exclusion of some of Sondheim’s more volatile songs. After all, Sondheim had the moxie and vision to write musicals about assassins, the Freudian undercurrent of fairy tales and the grisly fable of Sweeney Todd. He had the courage to explore the darker side of humanity and suggest that morality isn’t always easy to define. When Bob Hess and Alex Organ sing the “Pretty Women” duet, how much richer the experience if we knew “pretty women” made the male leads from Sweeney Todd both kindred spirits and mortal enemies? If we knew the lupine underpinnings of “Hello Little Girl”?
All that being said, how annoyed can I be, when Sondheim himself had a hand in creating this musical revue? This montage that selects numbers from 14 different shows (including Follies, Assassins, Into the Woods, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sunday in the Park With George, A Little Night Music and Company) and fuses them together with grace, charm and wit? It isn’t exactly Sondheim Lite but neither does it evoke some of the intense, soul shuddering experiences that can make a Sondheim show unforgettable. One imagines Mr. Sondheim had very practical reasons for concocting this pleasant (and yes, often scintillating) assortment, it was a way to provide access to the exquisite, wry, sumptuous tunes of Stephen Sondheim without asking the audience to forfeit their sense of well-being.
Putting it Together has an impressive balance of talent, the previously mentioned Mr. Hess (“Hello Little Girl”) brings his warmth, irony and passion to the material, Mr. Organ (“Marry Me a Little”) his sophistication, pensiveness and urgency. John Campione (“Buddy‘s Blues”) brings his impish, frank, spontaneous touch. Sarah Elizabeth Smith (“Lovely”) does a gloriously slanted spin on the ingenue chanteuse. Diana Sheehan is brilliant, delivering angry, sardonic pieces like “The Ladies Who Lunch” and “Could I Leave You?” with thunder and authority. One of the high points of this engaging, vigorous revue is the cast performance of “Being Alive,” towards the end of the second act. Taken from Sondheim’s watershed musical, Company, it is surely one of the most anguished, conflicted, penetrating examinations of love, ever put into a song, “Somebody hold me too close. Somebody hurt me too deep. Somebody need me too much. And make me come through. I’ll always be there. As frightened as you.” One thing Putting it Together definitely hasn’t lost is Sondheim’s genius and obsessive need to include the raw, enervating, overwhelming truth.
Water Tower Theatre proudly presents Putting it Together : Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim, playing January 11th-February 3rd, 2013. 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001. 972-450-6262. www.watertowertheatre.org