The songs of Broadway and film composer Stephen Sondheim, who masterfully crafts music and lyrics to the characters within his stories, comes to the North Coast Repertory Theatre, July 15–Aug. 16 in the revue “Side by Side by Sondheim,” directed by David Ellenstein.
Soprano Angelina Réaux, noted interpreter of another musical great, Kurt Weill, is one of the cast. Born in Houston, Texas, trained as an actress and a classical singer, she made her New York Philharmonic debut singing “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Her one-woman Weill show, “Stranger Here Myself,” was first produced at the New York Shakespeare Festival.
Réaux also sang in Leonard Bernstein’s “Jeremiah Symphony” at the Vienna Konzerthaus; and for the Chicago Opera Theater’s 25th season she conceived, directed and participated in the premiere of a “There Is a Garden: A Bernstein Celebration.”
She said she and her husband, also an opera singer, recently moved to San Diego, and she was looking for a show. “I saw that the North Coast Rep was going to do ‘Side by Side by Sondheim,’ and I had done the show before, so I called to inquire about it. David Ellenstein invited me to audition, and I got a part.”
Recalling her “break” into operatic music, Réaux said she was cast in the first national tour for “Sweeny Todd.” During the 23th performance at the Kennedy Center Opera House, she had a horrible accident.
“I went down the trap door, and it didn’t work,” she said. “The floor didn’t open up on time and I fell and my boots got caught and I broke both of my ankles, and the bones in my left foot were broken, and my foot was almost ripped off my leg. I didn’t walk for almost two years.
“In a wheelchair, I started going to opera classes because Hal Prince, who produced the Broadway version of ‘Side by Side by Sondheim,’ came to the hospital and gave me a book on opera.”
In “Side by Side by Sondheim” there’s a narrator who explains what show the songs are from, and in some cases, provides background on why a song was written. He also notes comparing and contrasting Sondheim themes.
“I sing ‘Send in the Clowns,’ and ‘I’m Still Here,’” Réaux said. “Everyone has great numbers, and I really like mine. All the music is fantastic, and it’s not only Sondheim’s music but it’s Leonard Bernstein’s as well. It’s ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Gypsy,’ and so many others, because Sondheim wrote the lyrics for those songs when he was just starting out.
“What ties this show together are the singer, two women and a man, and the narrator, Nick. He’s the one who strings the songs together. He has such a nice voice that David has him singing some of the songs as well, like ‘Being Alive’ from ‘Company.’”
Réaux said theatergoers would hear everything from beautiful ballads to bawdy comical songs. “The lyrics are so rich and powerful, and there’s so much drama in each one. Sondheim is a supreme lyricist. I just hope everyone comes out to see this show. It’s going to be great.”