Singing with Sondheim 

Savannah Little Theatre returns with musical revue Putting It Together

It’s back! Founded in 1950, the Little Theatre of Savannah has been an important part of the theater scene over the decades. After an absence of a year or so, it seemed the Little Theatre might not return.

But on Aug. 24, a musical revue celebrating the work of legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim will open for the first of eight performances. Yes, the Little Theatre folks are putting together Putting It Together.

Sondheim himself refers to this show as a “review,” not a “revue.” He came up with the concept for the show with Julia McKenzie as a way to showcase his music and tell a story at the same time.

Joan McKee, who began her own acting career 32 years ago at the Little Theatre, is directing the show. She most recently was seen in the Savannah Community Theatre production, Showtune.

Warren Heilman is the musical director. A band director by day, most recently he was the musical director of Footloose, the Musical, which was produced by the City of Savannah’s Cultural Arts Theatre. He also has been musical director for the productions of Aida, Baby, The Sound of Music, Grease and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Mark Rand is president of Little Theatre’s board of governors, and he has a part in the production. He has performed in such Sondheim musicals as Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Into the Woods and A Little Night Music.

Rand says the Little Theatre was never really gone. “It was kind of a lull,” he says. “Now we have a lot of new energy and interest. Some are people who got involved in the Little Theatre when they were young.

“They want to see it grow up closer to the level it used to be,” he says. “It was an organization that got tremendous support from the community, with thousands of audience members. It’s been an uphill battle, but we’re going to do the best we can to build it up.”

The Little Theatre’s return is part of a revival of theater in Savannah. “I think there was a perception, not necessarily true, that there was a dearth of theater,” Rand says. “You had to know where to look.”

As a veteran of other Sondheim musicals, Rand is excited about Putting It Together. “Sondheim is a big fan of puzzles and word play,” he says. “He has pulled pieces from his other shows and pieced them together to make a story. There’s no dialogue, but the order of the songs tells a story.”

The revue presents the stories of two couples. “It takes place in a Manhattan penthouse of a somewhat famous couple,” Rand says. “They hold a cocktail party and the younger couple meet.

“There is a fifth character, who is almost like a Greek chorus,” Rand says. “He also provides some comic relief.”

A lot of work has been put into the production. “Sondheim’s music is not the easiest to sing,” Rand says.

Other cast members are Ray Ellis, Courtney Lane, Ryan McCurdy and Lynita Spivey.

Ellis is the choral director and drama instructor at South Effingham High School, as well as the musical director for Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church. He has been involved in Savannah community theater for 24 years, appearing in productions such as Beauty and the Beast, The Wizard of Oz, Children of Eden, Baby and Little Shop of Horrors.

Lane is a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in media and performing arts and minored in dance. She has appeared in A Chorus Line and West Side Story and she co-wrote and produced an original musical, Earthen Heroes.

McCurdy runs the Savannah Actor’s Theatre with his wife, Sasha. Although he has appeared in numerous productions, this is his first time performing Sondheim.

“I really, really love to act,” McCurdy says. “The Little Theatre has been part of my consciousness ever since I moved to Savannah.

“I love Sondheim,” McCurdy says. “I’ve seen his shows, but I’ve never sung his music. Here’s a chance to sing some of the best music ever written.”

The show will particularly appeal to Sondheim fans, McCurdy says. “If you’ve seen one Stephen Sondheim show and loved it, this is like that experience times 12,” he says. The revue is particularly exciting because Sondheim chose, arranged and put the songs in order himself, McCurdy says. “This is Sondheim, choosing how the audience will see it,” he says. “It’s just so beautifully laid out and I’m having a ball.”

Spivey played the witch in the City Lights Theatre Company’s production of Into the Woods, and performed in Guys and Dolls, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Merry Wives of Windsor.

“It had been a long time since I’d done community theater,” Spivey says. “I’m very partial to Sondheim musicals. I was eager for an opportunity to work with these people, and this seemed like a really good opportunity.

“I love the cast,” she says. “Joan is a great director. The music is every bit as challenging as I expected it to be.”

Audiences will love the production, Spivey says. “If you love good music and high energy performances and want to experience it in an intimate setting, this is your show,” she says.

“It’s wonderful music, extremely moving and humorous, too,” Spivey says. ““It touches on every range of emotion.

“Like a good meal, it touches every point of your palate,” she says. “It’s very satisfying.”

In an effort to reach out to area students, both high school and college age, the Little Theatre will be selling Student Rush Tickets for Putting It Together and other upcoming performances. Under this system, unclaimed reservations and tickets will be released 10 minutes prior to curtain, and students with a valid I.D. can purchased them for a special reduced rate of $5.

Of course, there is no way to estimate the number of tickets that will be available on any given evening, and the Little Theatre can’t guarantee that any tickets at all will be left, but if there are, they’ll be sold. This system has been used by arts organizations in other cities, Rand says.

“I’ve spoken with quite a few students who’d love to enjoy live theater on a regular basis, but the ticket prices are simply out of reach for them,” he says. “We don’t want the cost of a ticket to keep them away.”

The Little Theatre of Savannah will present Putting It Together on Aug. 24, 25, 26, 31 and Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Aug. 24, 26, and Sept. 2 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for seniors, military and students with valid I.D., and $10 for children. To make reservations, visit www.littletheatreofsavannah.org, send email to reservations@littkletheatreofsavannah.org or call 631-3773. Tickets also will be available before performances and, if available, as Student Rush Tickets, which will be sold to students with valid I.D. for $5 starting 10 minutes before curtain.


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Linda Sickler

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