SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM, Pegasus Players. Born a generation too late to fully participate in Broadway's most fertile era--roughly the 1920s through the '50s--Stephen Sondheim still turned out witty tunes and pleasing lyrics worthy of the masters: Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin. When this revue of early Sondheim songs opened in 1976, he hadn't yet written Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park With George, or Into the Woods, yet this lively, loving anthology contains an embarrassment of riches. It's packed with songs from West Side Story and Gypsy (to which Sondheim contributed lyrics) and Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (for which he wrote music and lyrics), as well as songs from his famous flops Do I Hear a Waltz?, Anyone Can Whistle, and Pacific Overtures.
There's nothing particularly brilliant about the way directors Peter Amster and Michael LaTour present these songs. But then you don't have to be inspired to make them soar--you just have to work like the devil to master Sondheim's difficult, playful, literate lyrics and then step out of the way. The four-person ensemble handles the material fairly well, winning big laughs with the comic songs and moving us with the more somber meditations. Still, everything seems a little lost on the huge, mostly empty Pegasus stage--this show should be performed either with much more glitz or in a smaller, black box space. --Jack Helbig