Great songcraft has a way of sneaking up on one, especially in the gloried realm of musical theater. It’s rare that true legends build out of more than a few hit shows. Like that of still-busy Stephen Sondheim, who is currently being celebrated in a strong production of the hit revue show Side By Side By Sondheim at Ellenville’s Shadowland Theatre through November 2.
Sondheim, a native New Yorker who wrote his first musical while still in high school, and apprenticed to the great lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, started his half-century career writing lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy while still in his twenties, and then hitting it big as a composer and lyricist with the now classic A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum in 1962. After several years finding his feet, while collaborating the best Broadway had to offer, Sondheim hit a stride with producer Harold Prince from 1970 into the early 1980s, creating such works as Company, Follies, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd, and then a second wind with James Lapine that produced, among other works, Sunday In The Park With George, Passion and Into The Woods, along with a Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
Being the consummate creative sort, he’s also written music for film, finished plays, produced, created books and crossword puzzles, and mentored others over his route to eight Tony Awards, eight Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, Obies and that afore-mentioned Pulitzer Prize. Plus he’s still working, worrying whether his next work will be a hit or not.
Side By Side By Sondheim, now playing at Shadowland Thursdays through Sundays, came about as a favor for his friend, singer Cleo Laine, in the mid-1970s and features works up until that point, including such memorable songs as “Comedy Tonight,” “You Gotta Have A Gimmick,” “Broadway Baby,” and “Send In The Clowns.” Suffice it to say the work runs through a gamut of emotions with pizzazz and wit, and has long been considered a musical lover’s tour de force.
And Shadowland, being the region’s top Actor’s Equity theater, does it right as only Shadowland can.
Side By Side By Sondheim through November 2, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $39. Shadowland Theatre is at 157 Canal Street in Ellenville. Call 845-647-5511, for tickets or for more information, see www.shadowlandtheatre.org.