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It's West Coast's Turn for Putting It Together
By Terri Roberts, The Sondheim Review

Having just the vision's no solution,

Everything depends on execution. 

The art of making art . . . 

. . . Is putting it together, bit by bit. 

That was the task facing energetic Nick DeGruccio, a member of the highly respected Colony Studio Theatre in Los Angeles, when he was asked to direct the West Coast premiere of Stephen Sondheim's musical revue Putting It Together this spring. 

"There's been a lot of pressure attached to doing this premiere," the thirty-something DeGruccio admitted,"and to doing it without any star. It's a risk to take on a fairly new piece of material like this, and one that doesn't come with instructions on how to do it. The show very loosely sketched; I was basically just sent lyrics with a few ad-libs." 

The show centers around five people at a dinner party, with musical pieces from other Sondheitn shows aligned to present a two-hour story. Since DeGruccio was unfamiliar with previous productions, he worked without preconception. 

"In listening to it and putting the songs together, I began to see very clearly the arcs and the story lines of the characters,' he explained. "It was important to me to tell the story of these relationships, and to have the characters come to a truth by the end of the show. So I laid down the groundwork for each character. I knew when and why these people were singing these songs. And I talked to the actors about their throughlines, their arcs, and about the truth, the lonliness and the searching these five people go through. 

"All of his music played out like scenes. Sondheim has the heart and soul of these people; they talk to each other, especially in duets like 'Country House' (the London Follies, 1987). Not only does it sound like people having this conversafion, it also brings to light this entire relationship - and all in the context of one song. It's brilliant." 

It started when a little luck came along the theater's way. By chance, producer Barbara Beckley learned that Cameron Mackintosh had just released the rights for Putting It Together. She jumped on it. 

"I didn't know the show," DeGruccio remembered. "So I borrowed the CD, read the liner notes, listened to it all weekend, then said, 'Yes! I'd love to do it.'" 

Considering the full houses, the positive reviews and the five Critics' Choice nods, it seems that risk paid off. 

"It was so great for our little (99-seat) theatre to get the West Coast premiere of this show," the director said. "It's been very important to us. And the response has been great! It feels pretty damn good." 

But despite the acclaim, DeGruccio said, "the risk-taking is really in the piece itself, in trying to be both musical and revue, and trying to bridge that gap so people get involved in the total story." 

So bit by bit, he put it all together. And that's what counts.

Terri Roberts is a writer in Los Angeles. 
Visit The Sondheim Review and the Stephen Sondheim Stage site on the internet.