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Putting It Together — Colony Studio Theatre
Review by Travis Michael Holder, Theater, Entertainment Today

I am beginning to think The Colony is the one theatre company in L.A. able to accomplish just about anything. From drama (Incident at Vichy) to musical comedy (City of Angels) to classics (Shaw’s Heartbreak House) to rural ‘mericana (Mornings at Seven) to a world premiere created by a legendary wordsmith especially for this company to perform (The World of Ray Bradbury), all recent presentations offered by the Colony have been nothing short of exemplary.

Now to add to that growing lustre, The Colony has the difficult genre of musical revue with equal success. The west coast debut of Stephan Sondheim’s Putting It Together (the current resident of the ever-packed Silverlake 99-seat house), is charming, elegant, impeccably presented, expertly performed — and devilishly clever.

Putting It Together features the words and music of St. Stephan — contemporary musical theatre’s reigning genius and trendsetter — in a fascinating compilation of his material plucked out and transplanted from hit-and-miss shows (commercially, that is — for me Mr. Sondheim can do no wrong) as Sweeney Todd, Assassins, Company, Merrily We Roll Along, A Little Night Music, The Frogs, Follies, A Funny Thing... and even the film Dick Tracy. All linked together with an inventive storyline only the composer himself could help conjure, the highly diverse songs are delivered within the context of five friends sharing afternoon cocktails in an upscale New York City high-rise apartment. How perfectly urban. How perfectly urbane. Now perfectly Sondheim.

Along with the usual stellar production values fiercely maintained in virtually everything Barbara Beckley and this company (including a striking set by Susan Gratch, sleek costuming by Naomi Yoshida Rodriguez, and a maze of lighting cues designed by D. Silvio Volonte [tech week must have been a bitch!]), director Nick DeGruccio’s five performers contribute immeasurably to the success of this sparsely simple yet exceptional theatrical event.

Longtime Colony veteran Todd Nielsen is charming to watch as the resident Noel Coward/George Sanders "single" with dubious sexuality (isn’t a caustic wit one of the sure signs?... and don’t answer that, please), particularly good with "I Could Drive a Person Crazy" from Company and the show’s opener, "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience" from The Frogs, which requests that those gathered not noisily unwrap hard candies during the performance — a warning which was heeded for about 30 seconds before the Colony’s geriatric matinee subscription crowd began their all-too familiar cellophane cacophony.

As the most panted upon servant since Terrence Stamp in Taorema, the lovely Michelle Duffy is especially noteworthy in "The Miller’s Son," from Night Music and, as her love interest, James Matthew-Campbell stands out with an Astaire-like comic grace in "Marry Me a Little" from Company. However, it is Doug Carfrae and Barbara Passolt as the feuding hosts who anchor this production, he offering a most haunting, tender version of "Sorry Grateful" from Company, and she all but stopping the show with both the comedic "Getting Married Today" (also from Company) and Follies’ biting "Could I Leave You?"

Ironically, the first production I ever reviewed at the Colony was the more universally familiar and successful Sondheim revue from the late ‘70s, Side by Side by Sondheim. According to the reprinted liner notes by Cameron MacKintosh from the CD cover of the original London production of Putting It Together, the reason for the creation of this newer piece was due to the constant demand to update the original revue with more recent works.

Devised for MacKintosh by the composer himself with Julia McKenzie, also one of the creators of Side by Side, the ebullient producer explains this latter piece is "neither a revue nor a dramatic musical, but a mixture of the two, a sequence of songs from many different styles." That the collaborators found such unique ways to include "The Gun Song" from Assassins and then immediately follow it with "A Little Priest" from Sweeney Todd, is the greatest wonder of this fine presentation.

According to sources close to this production, however, all credit should not go to Sondheim and McKenzie. Although the relationships between the five partygoers are set — a wealthy but nearly on-the-rocks married couple who host the festivities; an attractive server asked to lose her French maid’s uniform and join the revelers as an added quest; and two single men, one after the maid, the other after the other — I was told the scripts arrive for Putting It Together with no clue whatsoever how to stage the piece itself.

Luckily, the Colony has an emerging resident wunderkind in DeGruccio, who recently won numerous honors (including the Ovation Award) for co-directing City of Angels with Nielsen. Here DeGruccio has masterfully created an emotional connection out of nowhere between the five characters which seems as if it were during a conference call between the director and Sondheim himself, perhaps linked telepathically through operators from the Psychic Friends Network.
 
 

Copyright Entertainment Today 
Reprinted with Permission
Putting It Together at the Colony Theatre