The nonpareil ingenuity and depth of Stephen Sondheim dominates "Putting It Together," the final offering of International City Theatre's 2002 season in Long Beach. This quasi-revue embraces the sophisticated wit and emotional point of America's foremost musical dramatist head-on, courtesy of director Michael Michetti and a swank ensemble.
Conceived by Sondheim, Julia McKenzie and Cameron Mackintosh, "Putting It Together" premiered as a 1992 Oxford workshop starring Diana Rigg, followed by the 1993 Manhattan Theatre Club production marking Julie Andrews' return to the New York stage after 30 years' absence. Los Angeles first saw it at the Colony Studio Theatre in 1997, then in the 1998 Mark Taper version starring Carol Burnett, which traveled to Broadway in 1999.
Unlike its celebrated predecessor "Side by Side by Sondheim," "Together" has aspirations beyond showcasing Sondheim's songs. Drawing on published and unused numbers from across the canon, the show revises them to fit a scenario concerning the 25th anniversary celebration of an affluent Manhattan couple (Colleen Fitzpatrick and Hank Adams).
They face off with each other and two young singles (Brittany Paige and Tom Schmid), overseen by a Greek chorus-style observer (Henry Polic II). This maneuvers the various complexities into a sidelong examination of the human hunger for connection, from the snappy opening title number to the electrifying, climactic rendition of "Being Alive."
Michetti's relaxed staging is admirably nuanced, with an eye for the telling gesture and meaningful pause. Bradley Kaye's townhouse setting, Steven Young's roseate lighting, and Scott A. Lane's chic wardrobe are exactly right. Musical director Dan Redfeld's combo has a syncopated finesse recalling the Terry Trotter Trio, and Paul Fabre's sound design is discreet.
The expert cast displays seamless vocal blend and keen introspection. Adams' stalwart baritone and demeanor are most effective, stilling the house in "The Road You Didn't Take" and "Good Thing Going." Fitzpatrick plies her supple mezzo and classy resemblance to '60s-era Janet Leigh with equal success.
Their duet of "Country House" and her Act 1 curtain excavation of "Could I Leave You?" are standouts.
Schmid is marvelous, wrapping his dulcet tenor around "Live Alone and Like It" and "Marry Me a Little" with breathtaking grace. Paige's understated charm and fine-tuned soprano reach a virtuoso peak in "More" from "Dick Tracy," done as brassy cousin to "Glitter and Be Gay" from "Candide." While Polic is occasionally over-twinkly, his affability suits the interlocutor's role, steering audience focus throughout.
Not every transplanted song works -- "Getting Married Today" from "Company" as frenzied memory solo, for instance, or "Hello, Little Girl" from "Into the Woods" as limp adult seduction. Given the specificity that marks Sondheim's art, such lapses seem inevitable. Still, if the functional limitations of the narrative conceit are workmanlike at best, on balance "Putting It Together" is uncommonly elegant entertainment, and certainly buffs should flock.
`Putting It Together'
Where: Center Theater, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach
8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Dark Nov. 28
Ends: Dec. 8
Contact: (562) 436-4610
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes