I wrote that opening sentence to this review on the car ride home Friday from Delray Beach before I studied the playbill for MNM Productions’ edition of Side by Side by Sondheim. Amazingly, director Bruce Linser had written almost the same thing in his program notes.
We both unknowingly agreed that most revues of show tunes, no matter how wonderfully sung and how good the material is, lack the storytelling that slingshots them in a theater performance several levels above a “standard” sung in a cabaret act.
But Stephen Sondheim is decidedly a composer-lyricist laser focused on songs telling a theatrical story; they lose half their impact taken out of context.
So Linser pushed four superb performers to act the dramatic, psychological and emotional guts out of these numbers; the result was often moving and stimulating renditions of theater songs about specific people in specific situations rather than disembodied “numbers.”