A stripped back production (“just three singers and two grand pianos”) of the much-loved Stephen Sondheim revue Side By Side By Sondheim will come to the Seymour Centre next week, featuring established musical theatre talents Amelia Cormack, Margi De Ferranti and Enda Markey alongside newsreader Jessica Rowe.

Rowe’s certainly the odd one out on that list, but as De Ferranti told the Star Observer, the presenter hasn’t chucked in her television career for a life on the stage just yet.

“Jessica will be playing the role of narrator, which is traditionally filled by newsreaders or celebrities. Jessica had actually come to me for a few singing lessons last year, so I suggested they give her a try in the role,” she said.
Will Rowe sing?

“Maybe a couple of notes, but nothing too major. It’s a whole new world for her, of course. But she came to her first rehearsal yesterday and she was just like a kid in a lolly shop.”

The heavy vocal lifting will be left to the capable voices of De Ferranti and her fellow singers. The musical theatre veteran, who has starred in major productions of Mamma Mia, Fame! The Musical and Grease and created the Hats Off! AIDS fundraising concerts with James Lee in the late ’90s, said she was a longtime fan of Sondheim’s work.

“I started out in the ’80s when he was at his peak. Sondheim is really the Shakespeare of musical theatre — he’s the guy. He might be a little too cerebral for mainstream audiences, but he’ll be the genius everyone remembers.

“And it’s so wonderful to sing his songs, because all you have to do is sing them — his lyrics tell the story so perfectly. All he’s concerned about is telling the story.”

As De Ferranti and company tell Sondheim’s stories through song, Rowe will be on hand to provide backstory and context about how the composer’s gems came about — a creative process examined by the man himself this year in the memoir of sorts, Finishing The Hat.

While much-loved songs like Send In The Clowns and Losing My Mind will of course feature, it’ll also be an opportunity for Sondheim fans to hear little-performed songs that were excised from works like Follies and Company.

“Sondheim fans have usually heard everything,” De Ferranti noted, “but there are some lesser-known works. There’s a song called The Boy From… which is a send-up of The Boy From Ipanema, and a few other one-offs like it that people will really enjoy.”

Asked for her own theory on the secret to Sondheim’s enduring success, De Ferranti said it was the ‘earworm’ quality of his songs that kept audiences coming back for more.

“His songs get under your skin and stay with you, whereas so many songs from musicals just don’t seem to last.”

info: Side By Side By Sondheim, April 12-16, Seymour Centre. Visit www.sidebysidebysondheim.com.au

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