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Sondheim's Sounds Brought To Life

Song, dance, soliloquies and Sondheim dominated the stage at the Springfield Community Theater's presentation of "Side by Side by Sondheim" at Immanuel United Methodist Church in Annandale.

Sondheim is famous for everything from "West Side Story" in 1956 to music for "The Birdcage," a 1996 Mike Nichols film. With a wide spectrum like that, the Springfield Community Theater tackled it all. Accompanied by one piano and sometimes two when one of the actresses doubled as an accompanying musician, the 14-member cast pulled off a musical that was more music than plot.

The production had an intimate feel to it. Cast members performed a few feet from the audience, and the stage was not elaborate.

Bridget Muehlberger was in the audience as a WATCH judge, as in Washington Area Theater Community Honors. She does about nine shows a year, traveling in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Community theater offers another side of the art.

"It's the passion," she said. "People aren't doing this for money. When we say nonprofit, we really mean nonprofit."

The 14-member cast was in the 20-50 age range, and none seemed to rely on acting for their bread and butter. Rachel Moreno, for example, was new in town and a teacher at Camelot Elementary School in Annandale. This was her first performance with the Springfield Community Theater, but not her first attempt at theater.

"I directed 'West Side Story' last year, so I got into it from that," she said.

Sena Rich was one of the narrators, who also played the role of a geisha in "Pretty Lady."

"I think it's great that they honor the world’s greatest dramatist," she said, referring to Sondheim's Broadway achievements that date back to the 1950s. This production, "Side by Side by Sondheim," first appeared on Broadway in 1977.

IN THE FIRST SET, actors performed several songs having to do with relationships and marriage. "You Must Meet My Wife," sung by Pamela Copley and David Henderson, deals with a mother and son. In "Getting Married," a frantic bride, dominated by facial expressions, refers to marriage as a "prehistoric ritual." In "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," David Henderson, Peter Krueger and Silvio Menzano sport brooms, doing "honey-do's" as they sing about having a maid to do everything including have an affair. After one of the actresses comes out in a French maid's outfit, complete with lacy stockings, white apron and a lingerie-type uniform, the song ends with the men carrying her off the stage.

The show goes through several of Sondheim's own stages throughout the 2 1/2-hour performance.

Herndon resident Jai Khalsa was in seeing a friend, Catina Anderson, who played the frantic bride. It was Anderson's first show with the Springfield Community Theater. Khalsa is a theater student and photography major at Northern Virginia Community College.

"It is a good variety of pieces he [Sondheim] created. It's an excellent stepping stone," Khalsa said.

Diane Blais is a lifetime member at Springfield Community Theater.

"I love it. It's educational, a way to get the feel for the guy [Sondheim]. This is the whole history," Blais said.

The cast wrapped the performance up after 31 songs, with "Conversation Piece," which was bits and pieces from all the songs with a touch of humor.

Springfield Community Theater is still looking for a home in Springfield, according to president Anita Gardiner. The company performed out of St. Christopher's in Springfield until 1999, when the church was to be renovated. It was supposed to tear down the stage until it discovered it was part of the basement ceiling. Nevertheless, the theater group has not gone back. For two years, it was a wandering troupe, performing at various locations.

"We would like to be in Springfield," Gardiner said.

One place on her wish list is the former Hearth Store building on Old Keene Mill Road, but she hasn't explored that possibility yet. Area schools charged too much for the low-budget group, and other than that, there wasn't much choice around Springfield. Other locations they are eyeing include the old Hechinger on Backlick, or the old Circuit City building on Old Keene Mill Road, but everything seemed to come down to money. Gardiner wouldn't rule out being part of the Laurel Hill performing arts complex that is planned for the former Lorton Prison land, but that isn't really in Springfield.

The troupe's summer 2004 production of "The Sound of Music" is scheduled to take place at Bishop Ireton.