“Sondheim on Sondheim” – The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – March 1, 2020


The Phoenix Theatre Company, Judith Hardes Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Stephen Sondheim has penned a rich collection of song hits in his many Broadway musicals.   His profound lyrics and stunning melodies are showcased in the recent Broadway revue, “Sondheim on Sondheim,” which The Phoenix Theatre Company mounts in a wonderfully sung and marvelously staged local premiere production.

The staging uses the same Sondheim film clips created for the New York production that featured the late Barbara Cook in her last Broadway musical.  The video clips let Sondheim explain his shows.  Interspersed among his explanations that provide interesting nuances on his shows are a collection of his songs as he chronicles his shows that are sung by a cast of expert Sondheim interpreters.

Brandon Brown, Rusty Ferracane, Merissa Haddad, Amy Jo Halliday, Jonathan Hoover, and Kathlynn Rodin sing over 40 tunes with touching feeling on the reflective numbers and comic joy on the humorous ones.  Since many Sondheim songs deal with marriage, an institution he knew nothing about, he sat down with friends to learn about the foibles of partnerships.  He explained that he approached “Sweeney Todd” differently than other adapters by making it gruesome; something that he felt made his show successful.  His favorite musical is “Sunday in the Park…” because of the Seurat painting that inspired it.  He also tells of his abusive mother and what that did for his career.

The Phoenix Theatre Company reconfigured the Judith Hardes Theatre into an intimate 125 seat triangle shaped venue that director Robert Kolby Harper uses well as he keeps his cast moving around the space and his staging uses his expert choreographic skills to keep the cast in effortless fluidity.  Steve Hilderbrand conducts on off-stage band with limber dexterity.

The ensemble uses restrained sophistication that serve perfectly for their flawless renditions of Sondheim’s delicious tunes.  The cast deliver the thoughtful and amusing songs with elegant aplomb, rich conviction, and sincere interpretive genius.  Hoover has outlandish fun with “Smile” written for “Gypsy” but performed for only one performance.  He also performs a stunning “Finishing the Hat” from “Sunday in the Park…” among his many solos and ensemble numbers.  Ferracane performs subtly reflective songs including a touching but athletic “Epiphany” from “Sweeney Todd.”  He has joyous fun in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’s” opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” in which he partners with Haddad who delivers a shattering “Losing My Mind” from Sondheim’s show-biz musical “Follies.”  Halliday stops the show with mesmerizing renditions of “Take Me to the World” and “In Buddy’s Eyes.”  Rodin brings effervescent fun to “Do I Hear A Waltz?” and, with Haddad, in ”The Wedding Is Off.”  Brown moves well and also executes the silly “I’ll Meet You at the Donut” from Sondheim’s first musical with silly delight.  He has an energetic field day with Hoover and Haddad in “Franklin Shepard, Inc” from “Merrily We Roll Along.”

If you love Stephen Sondheim songs, “Sondheim on Sondheim” provides a fabulous collection of his music.  “Sondheim on Sondheim” continues through April 12.  For ticket information call The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or buy tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com

Grade: A