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Side By Side By Sondheim: The Walnut Salutes the Master!

May 1, 2007

PHILADELPHIA, PA: The Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3 presents Side By Side By Sondheim, a sparkling revue from Broadway's greatest living composer. The New York Times called Stephen Sondheim "the greatest, perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theatre." Audiences will remember why with Side By Side By Sondheim in the Walnut's Independence Studio 3 from May 22 - July 1.

Side By Side By Sondheim is a brilliant musical tribute to the greatest American lyricist/composer alive. Opening to rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, this entertaining revue celebrates Sondheim's early work (prior to Sweeney Todd). In one dazzling musical evening, audiences will revel in the songs from shows that captured the emotions of a whole new generation: West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Anyone Can Whistle. Also included are enchanting selections from favorites like Do I Hear A Waltz?, Company and Follies. Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics partner with the thrilling musical talents of composers Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, Mary Rodgers and Richard Rodgers. Side By Side By Sondheim is a musical feast that is a crème de la crème of Broadway's best.

Side By Side By Sondheim is the brainchild of British performer David Kernan. He developed a revue of Sondheim's best songs, bound together with commentary that reveals the artist as he's never been seen before. With the help of actor/singers Millicent Martin, Julie N. McKenzie and Ned Sherrin (who also directed and developed the original commentary), Side By Side By Sondheim premiered in London to glowing reviews. When it transferred to Broadway in 1977, David Kernan earned a Tony nomination for his performance. The songs of Side By Side By Sondheim embody music and lyrics that evoke a brilliantly creative, profoundly witty sophistication. From marriage to soul-searching to contemporary city life, Sondheim's uniquely American style is a banquet of intriguing characters and lush music. The production combines show-stopping favorites like "Comedy Tonight" with unexpected, little-known gems of Sondheim's genius that are rarely heard on stage.

Born in New York City in 1930, Stephen Sondheim became entranced by the theatre at an early age and found the ultimate mentor in his summertime Bucks County neighbor, Oscar Hammerstein II. Hammerstein proved a rigorous, invaluable teacher as Sondheim developed his skills as a composer and a lyricist. Sondheim had his first big break in 1957, when he wrote the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story score. His first hit as lyricist/composer was the hilarious 1962 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (winning a Tony for Best Musical). Many hits followed, including Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, and Pacific Overtures. One of his most distinguished collaborations occurred between 1970 and 1981, when Sondheim worked with renowned director Harold Prince on six new musicals, including Sweeney Todd (Tonys for Best Musical and Best Score). Sondheim won a 1985 Pulitzer with James Lapine (their collaborations including Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods). When he wasn't penning Broadway show, Sondheim also worked on film scores and screenplays, in addition to working for two years composing crossword puzzles for New York Magazine. Known for his originality, versatility and melodic intricacy, Stephen Sondheim brought a thrilling, sophisticated new sound to the modern American musical.

The cast of Side By Side By Sondheim at the Walnut includes some local virtuosos. Ben Dibble, winner of the F. Otto Haas Award at the 2006 Barrymores, appeared at the Walnut in the American premiere of La Vie on Bleu. Now he returns as one of the show's singing trio, along with Walnut veteran Denise Whelan. Denise wowed audiences with her soulful performance here in last fall's Windy City, having also appeared in The Thing About Men, La Vie En Bleu, and Cats. Completing this talented trio of revue singers is Walnut newcomer Kim Carson. Filling the role of the Narrator is Fran Prisco, welcomed back after his roles in The Thing About Men, Forever Plaid, and Damn Yankees. On the piano is Heidi Hayes, fresh from the title role of our 2007 Kids Series production of Miss Nelson Has a Field Day.

Alan Souza makes his Walnut directing debut, having appeared here on the Mainstage in My Fair Lady. This Syracuse University graduate is a prolific director who has tackled musicals across the country, from New York City to Oklahoma and beyond. Andrew Thompson does double duty, lending his talents as both Set Designer and Sound Designer. Lighting Designer Shon Causer is enjoying a successful season at the Walnut, having illuminated our wonderful productions of A Christmas Carol and The Mystery of Irma Vep earlier in the year. Costume Designer Mary Folino designed this season's Studio 3 opener, the quick-change riot The Mystery of Irma Vep, in addition to past designs for The Fantasticks, Forrest: A Riot of Dreams, and The Thing About Men.

Side By Side By Sondheim is a brilliant finale to the 2006-2007 Season at the Walnut's Independence Studio on 3. Sondheim fans and new theatergoers alike will be side by side with breathtaking songs and top-notch performers in the unparalleled intimacy of the Walnut's Studio 3.