Putting Pat Brady to work researching Stephen Sondheim didn’t require a lot of arm-twisting.
“I’ve always been a big fan and that’s really what drew me to this show in the first place,” said Brady, a Glenville resident who will be performing and serving as the narrator in the Schenectady Light Opera Company production of “Side by Side by Sondheim” beginning Friday and running through March 14. “I think everybody in this show is a Sondheim junkie. Once you’re bitten by the Sondheim bug, you’re sunk.”
For Gazette theater writer Matthew G. Moross' review of this show, click here.
“Side By Side By Sondheim” is a musical revue first produced on the West End in London in 1976 and on Broadway the following year. It is a celebration of Sondheim’s work, at least that up to 1976, and features songs from a number of shows he worked on, including “West Side Story,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Follies,” “Company,” “Gypsy,” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
‘Side By Side By Sondheim’
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 826 State Street, Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. March 11-13 and 2 p.m., March 14
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 1-877-350-7378 or www.sloctheater.org
Brady works from a script to provide a narrative that ties all the songs together, but she couldn’t help but dig a little deeper into Sondheim’s life and his work.
“There is no plot to this musical, so I kind of interject some facts about his life and try to make some insights into his music,” she said. “I break up the revue format that way, and although I have a script to go by, I read a lot on the Internet about him. I wanted to add a few more anecdotes because he had a very interesting life.”
Sondheim, who will turn 80 on March 22, has eight Tony Awards and eight Grammys on his resume, and was also presented with a special Tony in 2008 for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. Sondheim’s credits also include a 1985 Pulitzer Prize in drama for “Sundays in the Park with George,” and an Oscar for the 1990 song from “Dick Tracy,” “I Always Get My Man.”
A 1950 graduate of Williams College, Sondheim initially found success writing lyrics for Broadway successes like “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” He got the opportunity to do the music and lyrics for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” The show was a huge hit and won five Tonys, although none of them went to Sondheim.
In 1971, however, he won his first two Tonys for “Company,” (Best Score and Best Lyrics), and then continued to run off a string of successes for the next three decades.
“He certainly has been touted by many people as the best lyricist of our time,” said Brady. “He’s always a bit more complex, and sometimes people find it difficult to perform, and sometimes even listen to. But the people that love it, truly love it.”
Becoming a fan
Chad Czelusniak, who is performing and serving as choreographer, developed a deeper appreciation for Sondheim’s work when director Thomas Bambury asked him to get involved in this production.
“I had some knowledge of him, but I consider myself a real fan, now,” said Czelusniak, who runs a dance studio in Amsterdam. “His music is beautiful, and it requires a lot of work to sing his music. The diction has to be clear and he wrote it that way purposely.”
Much of Czelusniak’s time on stage has been as a competitor in ballroom dance competitions, but only recently he was involved in “The Pajama Game” at SLOC.
“Before that the last time I would have done theater was in high school,” said Czelusniak, an Amsterdam native. “It’s a lot different than what we do in ballroom dance competitions. They’re only about a minute and a half long, and these song and dance numbers we’re doing are three and four minutes long. That’s a lot of choreography for a ballroom dancer. It’s been a challenge, but it’s also been a lot of fun.”
He will perform three dance routines with Lynzee Finney, like him a former instructor at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Latham and now the owner of her own dance studio in Scotia.
“We had some very strong singers, so I knew I needed another strong dancer and Lynzee and I have worked together before,” said Czelusniak. “With her grace and beauty the audition went fine. But it’s also amazing to me just how much talent there is in the theater community locally. It was surprising to me how good these people are, like Joan Horgan and Pat Brady. They are amazing.”
“I get to sing two fabulous songs,” said Brady, who does renditions of “Send in the Clowns” and “I’m Still Here.”
“I performed in ‘Company’ at SLOC about 10 years ago, and I also was in ‘Follies’ at SLOC about 15 years ago. They were both a lot of fun, and I have some wonderful memories of being in those two shows.”
The long list of singers performing along with Brady and Horgan include Mark A. Burgasser, who played Tevye in the Park Playhouse production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in 2005. Kate Kaufman Burns is assisting Bambury as the musical director, and Marlene Countermine is producing.