Reviews of shows from the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and other local venues published by the Los Cerritos Community News. The writer and paper are in their twentieth year of covering these events.

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Location: Fear City, Ca., United States

"My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre - as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field." George Sanders in "All About Eve"

Monday, January 24, 2011

Robert Kapilow: What Makes It Great? The Music of Stephen Sondheim

“Robert Kapilow: Clear
Thinking About
Mixed Sondheim

"What I want most of all, By Glen Creason

Time flies when you are learning while being entertained and Robert Kapilow’s series “What Makes It Great” in its thirteenth year at the Cerritos Center for Performing Arts! Thirteen years of stellar programs and sterling insight into the magic of musical creation ranging across some genre lines from the giants of classical to the greats of more popular forms. In the case of this show on a Wednesday evening, the subject was the modern musical maestro Stephen Sondheim where Kapilow, an accomplished composer and conductor himself dissected then put four gems back into whole piece as performed by three very talented Broadway savvy singers.

Kapilow said it and it is hard to deny that Sondheim stands high above his contemporaries for memorable compositions and risk taking shows that have left an indelible mark on this wonderful American art form. Not since Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein has the musical stage had such a treasure of songs as have flowed from the pen of Sondheim. It is a tribute to Kapilow’s skills that he is able to demonstrate this great genius by using just a few songs out of the hundreds that date back to “A Funny Thing Happened to on the Way to the Forum” in 1962 to “Road Show” in 2009. This Kapilow master class was probably inspired by the fascinating, recently published memoir “Finishing the Hat” that was explained with piano and voice on this night.

The beauty of any Kapilow show is his empathy for the composers and insight into the process of creating the structures of musical art. On this evening he started with the most well-known of all Sondheim songs “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” which is full of a sort of trademark longing and lack of resolution. Kapilow shows how the song is antithetical to the standard approach seen in almost all previous musical song writing. The quote from the poet W.H. Auden sums up the genius accomplishments of such songs as “clear thinking about mixed feelings.” After explanations the song was performed exquisitely by soprano Sally Wilfert whereupon you could have heard a tiny pin drop in the big hall.

The second song was “Finishing the Hat” from “Sunday in the Park with George” that won Sondheim a Pulitzer. Once again we find subtlety and ambiguity that put edges of emotion on the lyrics. Another wonderful singer Michael Winther put a shine on this twenty-six year old lovely by just singing it as written. “Too Many Mornings” from “Follies” is an absolute heartbreaker as the lady Sally longs for “what might have been” and even “the selective memory of nostalgia” cannot bring back to life. The final piano punctuation by Kapilow after Miss Wilfert’s silken solo sent serious goose bumps from the orchestra to the back row.

The last song showed the versatility of Sondheim with a light-hearted romp from “Company” called “Getting Married Today” that while comedic was packed with wisdom. Cerritos’ own Erin McNally was outstanding in adding a second soprano to this brilliant and brisk trio, providing a true show stopping moment to an already terrific evening. Adding icing to a fully delicious slice of musical cake the encore softened hearts one last time with “You Are Not Alone” from “Into the Woods” which forced hankies out in tribute to Sondheim’s power to move his audiences.


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