Is it possible, as Greta Garbo famously said in Queen Christina, to "feel nostalgia for a place one has never seen"?
There was once a form of entertainment known as "supper clubs," where you scarfed down choice vittles and chilled cocktails while singers sang songs as sophisticated as you were trying to be. Pittsburgh had a thriving supper-club scene which was gone by the 1980s; people changed, entertainment needs changed and, most importantly, music changed. For a few brief shining weeks, however, Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret lets you travel back to an era of stylish singers performing ultra-urbane material.
Side By Side By Sondheim is a compendium of music and lyrics by — surprise! — Stephen Sondheim. CLO Cabaret has, of course, programmed many revues: shows featuring radio hits from the ' 50s, ' 60s, ' 70s and ' 80s. I think ticket-holders were expecting a similar evening, because at the beginning their inattention and low expectations were palpable. But as the evening progressed, they realized that this music, if given attention and thought, provided huge rewards.
What a joy to hear Billy Hepfinger, Daniel Krell, Lenora Nemetz and Caroline Nicolian perform material worthy of their considerable talents. Nicolian nails the furious panic of "Getting Married Today," and Hepfinger brings his extraordinary voice to "Marry Me a Little." The two of them combine for an exquisite "We' re Gonna Be Alright."
It comes as no surprise that Broadway veteran Nemetz can reduce an audience to helpless laughter with minimal visible effort with "The Boy From ..." or the burlesque camping of "I Never Do Anything Twice." But the evening reaches its emotional zenith when she and Krell perform a devastating medley of "Send in the Clowns" and "The Road You Didn' t Take."
Pianist Brent Alexander is so amazing you might almost forgive the CLO for not hiring additional musicians; single-piano arrangements seem insulting to this music.
As I was leaving, I heard the man behind me say to his wife, with something like confused awe: "That was really good." It was as if he suddenly realized maybe Stephen Schwartz isn' t the highest musical theater has to offer.