It's true that Putting It Together caters to Stephen Sondheim fans. The revue compiles nearly 50 years of his work as lyricist and composer. But WaterTower Theatre's production will also delight those less in tune with Sondheim's significance, because the cast is astonishing.
Led by Dallas diva Diana Sheehan, the cast delivers song after song, falling into a rhythm so engrossing that by the show's end the songs have nestled into one's auditory cortex, where songs get stuck. For days to follow, my office will be subjected to the incessant humming "Pretty Women" from Sweeney Todd and re-imagining Alex Organ sing "Marry Me a Little" from Company.
More demonstrative of Sondheim's staying power is the way this revue replants songs from less familiar musicals, while also demonstrating recognizable threads in his music. "A Country House" from Follies resonates in "By the Sea" from his later Sweeney Todd. But for all the show's built-in points of interest, this production would struggle without the show-stopping performances of Organ and newcomer Sarah Elizabeth Smith.
Smith's graceful, spunky presence is matched by a bright, pure voice that does not lapse on a single song. She fills the stage on the showy, upbeat "More" from the film Dick Tracy, immediately transitioning to Sheehan's catty counterpoint on "There's Always a Woman" from Anyone Can Whistle. In this cast, Organ is her only match on consistency with flawless vocal delivery and an affable stage persona—the most important elements of a musical revue.
The other characters perform with enough sparkle to keep the show alive. As the show's refined gentlemen, Bob Hess possesses enough charm to bandage any vocal shortcomings, plus he looks great in his well-tailored suit (costume designer is unlisted in the program, but the suits and cocktail dresses are ideal). John Campione serves as the show's narrator of sorts, announcing the theme of each scene and letting loose on his second-act solo, "Buddy's Blues" from Follies.
Although neither act outweighs the other, the second act teems with individual showstoppers for Sheehan and she gives them stellar treatment. She plumbs the depth of her talent with "Not Getting Married Today" from Company, stringing an awe-inspiring number of words into one breath.
The performances are guided by Mark Mullino's music direction of the orchestra behind the set. In the opening prologue, Mullino plays a solo piano and Campione struggles through the notes, but the minute the band jumps in, it vivifies the subsequent numbers.
Terry Martin, WaterTower's artistic director, recently directed Smokey Joe's Café, another jukebox musical. Where he failed with that show, he succeeds in Putting it Together. The scenes seamlessly lead from one to another, making sense of how each song fits into the script—although this could also be attributed to a better-organized revue.
It may not be a huge accomplishment to put good-looking actors in cocktail party attire and ask them to sing songs from one of Broadway's greatest composers and lyricists, but WaterTower does the show justice. Putting it Together is a fun romp through Sondheim's work.