For a lovely evening of Stephen Sondheim songs and entertainment, check out the University of Alabama at Huntsville Theatre Department’s You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow, running this weekend only at the Wilson Hall theatre on the UAH Campus.
This is a 60-minute revue of songs from Sondheim’s earlier works, with selections from several shows, to include Sweeney Todd, Follies, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The varied settings necessitates a very simple production, with UAH putting a three-part orchestra on the stage, a projection screen behind, and the performers down front, with some costume changes. Each set of songs is introduced with a short narration, explaining the basic premise of the play from which they came.
David Harwell’s direction keeps the action moving, with barely a break between numbers, not even to allow the actors to hold for their own applause. Overall, his concentration at casting time was on the singing, which is understandable, and he weighted the roles toward his more talented singers. On the one hand, the show IS all about the songs, so vocal talents should be, and are, paramount, but on the other hand, these are THEATRE songs, so to take this show to the heights it can achieve requires that the songs also be acted and “felt” as well. In this UAH production, the acting generally depends more on the natural inclinations of the particular performer, than any decisive direction for the purpose. There is some attempt at choreography, but Dana Clark was not given a group of dancers to work with. Still, the cast does an admirable job at “moving well” to support the numbers when needed.
But the night was about the songs, and there is a reason that Sondheim has been called possibly the greatest lyricist ever. He wrote every note and word that you will hear, and an impressive collection of songs it is. The music direction, by Dr. Aaron Cain, is generally well done, with nice blends and harmonies in the group numbers, and pleasing solos. There are times the “cycle” songs that Sondheim is famous for, like “Being Alive”, don’t quite build throughout to the climactic final verse one expects, and the cast has the usual difficulties of amateurs trying to sing up to the requirements of Sondheim, but overall the evening is a pleasing tribute to the master lyricist.
Luz Tolentino-Ladrillono steals the show with her two solo numbers, “Send in the Clowns” and “Not a Day Goes by”. She has the most trained voice of the group, and it shows. She also has a clear willingness to “act” during her numbers, though she tends to sit on one emotional level throughout a song, rather than taking the audience on a journey. Still her voice is stellar, and one is totally willing to forgive the rest.
Likewise, James Desta has a beautiful voice, showcased especially in “Being Alive” and “Joanna”. James’ performance is more in the style of a concert, focused almost solely on the singing, rather than performing, but he has an impressive voice, so we let that slide.
Sarah Bell Altonji, on the other hand, is a performer first and foremost, doing an amazing job of being entertaining and fun. She might be trying a bit too hard to have vibrato, but she’s a joy to watch every time she’s on stage, especially in her solo “What More Do I Need?”
Jascha Thais is simply amazing. Her bio doesn’t list any formal training, but that can’t possibly be true. She is both entertaining to watch, and a joy to hear, especially in “Echo Song”.
Dominick Desta sings well throughout, and clearly has a lot of fun performing “The House of Marcus Lycus”. Jackson Love and Robert Parks round out the male portion of the cast, and provide admirable support to the production, giving it their all. Savannah Rutherford has a very nice voice, but at times seemed a bit lost onstage. Young Madeline Stevens is developing what will someday be a wonderful singing voice, and will assuredly develop the acting side of her craft as well.
Ron Guthrie’s accompaniment on the piano was impeccable. Sadly, the drummer and the keyboardist (filling in for a bass-player) are not listed in the program, so it’s not possible to credit their fine work as well.
While this reviewer was surprised to see every performer wearing a mic in that small space, if the alternative was lost lyrics due to projection issues or balance with the orchestra, then the mics were a good decision. The sound mixing was a bit uneven though, with some performers booming forth from the speakers, while others sounded more natural and organic, but it was opening night, and one assumes that tweaks will be made.
The lighting and projection effects did a wonderful job of setting the moods and locations. No lighting designer is listed in the program, so one assumes Harwell took on this role as well as his Directing work. Ron Harris’ costumes were quite impressive, both in their ability to add to the varying performances, and in their ease with which the actors could change them. There were times it did not seem possible that an actor was back onstage already.
Overall, it’s a fun, relaxing hour, hearing some stellar Sondheim show tunes, and the opening-night crowd rewarded the effort with a standing ovation. Show up early, because even on Thursday, late-comers were turned away for lack of seats. You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow runs Friday and Saturday at 7:00 PM and closes Sunday afternoon, 13 March, at 2:30. Ticket information here.