Reading with Emphasis 

Keeping it fresh with staged readings.

Theatrical readings have their own pleasures for an audience. In a reading, the cast works from scripts with limited preparation. This means the performers are still discovering the material. With experienced actors, a reading can have a freshness that might have evaporated in weeks of rehearsal. The effects of repetition are even more apparent in non-Equity and community theater, in which directors have the latitude to substitute quantity over quality when it comes to rehearsal. Perfection is not always the most desirable of qualities in a show.

In “Side by Side by Sondheim,” Michael E. Mason, Hayley Raphael and Thomasin Savaiano perform an evening of Sondheim tunes (accompanied by pianists, Laura Candler-White and Musical Director Sandy Dacus). Dressed in formal wear, the cast demonstrates considerable polish and ability as they sing selections from “Gypsy,” “West Side Story,” “Company,” “A Little Night Music” and more. But the show was still new to them, and it was easy to read their delight when a particular musical passage worked better than expected.

Sondheim’s thematic and musical complexity garners acclaim but not always love. But it’s his range of interests that keeps the evening from becoming too much of a good thing. There are no silly love songs in this revue. Ironically, TheatreVirginia’s final show last December was devoted to an evening of Rodgers and Hart standards. The very catchiness of the tunes began to grate in the second act. That doesn’t happen with Sondheim.

It’s not possible to see “Side by Side by Sondheim,” which was performed last weekend. For each reading in the series, Richmond Ensemble only performs twice at the Pine Camp Arts and Community Center. But in December they return with a reading of Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” Simon is the consummate New York playwright, but the Theater District flavor of his work is often reduced to cliché. If we’re lucky, the upcoming reading will have as much Big Apple authenticity as the Sondheim show. S

For more information about the Richmond Ensemble Theatre and its season of readings, call 278-8749.


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