Two veterans combine with four younger performers to give new life to Sondheim music.
From the first familiar notes of Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” it is obvious that all that is necessary for a transportable experience is to sit back and let the 16-piece orchestra fill Signature Max Theatre with an impressive selection from the Sondheim catalogue in its premiere of “Simply Sondheim.”
The Max Theatre was transformed into an urban cabaret, but the big sound of Jonathan Tunick orchestrations and the sensitive direction of Jon Kalbfleisch took the musical level to a much higher standard; this was a concert hall orchestration of the 33 selected Sondheim songs that ranged from such light, familiar numbers such as “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” and “Getting Married Today” from “Company,” to three more complex, lesser known numbers from “Passion.”
Under the leadership of Eric Schaeffer, Signature has staged 24 Sondheim musicals in the 25 years the theatre has been in suburban Shirlington. Simply Sondheim, which has just a two week run, was co-conceived by Schaeffer and David Loud, and brings together six talented singers. Loud also supervised the music and vocal arrangements. Under the direction and choreography of Matthew Gardiner, the cast movements in and out of the musical numbers were seamless.
While all six members of the cast are remarkably talented, the two veterans, Donna Migliaccio, long a popular presence in Signature productions with a voice that rattles the rafters, and Bobby Smith, a performer who knows how to sell a song and who has an elastic, expressive face and fluid dance movements, demand special recognition.
The other four younger singers, Austin Colby, Kellee Knighten Hough, Paul Scanlan, and Stephanie Walters, perform Sondheim with a consummate melodic skill. They each brought flawless emotion and understanding into every number they performed. Walters and Knighten Hough sing two of the loveliest songs in the show: “Losing My Mind” from “Follies” and “Not a Day Goes By” from “Merrily We Roll Along.”
If you love Sondheim, from the opening of Act I with “Merrily We Roll Along” to the closing of Act II with a reprise of “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Simply Sondheim” was flawless. Signature Theatre excels at Sondheim, and this production more than lived up to expectations.
“Simply Sondheim” continues through April 19 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Virginia 22206. Tickets are $89 and available at 703-820-9771 or online.