Every once in a while there is a little gem of show that makes both audience and critics rejoice. Alas, such a show has landed with Porchlight Music Theatre's 17th season opener, Stephen Sondheim's ‘Putting It Together". Much more than just a review of the composer's songs, "Putting It Together" contains some of Chicago's best talent weaving a story of friendship, betrayal and redemption all at a fabulous cocktail party in the West Loop.
Originally conceived by Mr. Sondheim and Julia McKenzie as a follow-up piece to Side By Side By Sondheim, "Putting It Together" had its London premier in 1992, followed by a Broadway run in 1993 featuring Julie Andrews and a revival in 1998 starring Carol Burnett who famously lost her skirt in front of the audience on closing night. The plot is simple. An established couple (Adam Pelty and McKinley Carter) is having a cocktail party for some friends at their upscale loft in the West Loop. As the booze flows the guests begin their journey of lustful liaisons that test the boundaries of marriage and friendship.
Under the masterful direction of Brenda Didier, "Putting It Together" is a stand alone work of art. From the amazing cast led by Adam Pelty and McKinley Carter to musical direction on par with any Broadway production by Austin Cook, this is a physically gorgeous production that can still pack an emotional punch. Ms. Didier and Mr. Cook have deconstructed each of Sondheim's songs and made them unique to this production.
Most notably, ‘Lovely' from (A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way To The Forum) is now a pointedly moving duet between Ms. Carter and Aja Goes who sings about the triteness of physical beauty and the jealousy one feels when loosing control of aging. Mr. Pelty and Michael Reckling also re-interpret "Pretty Women" from ‘Sweeney Todd' giving the song a more humble tone. Alex Weisman is in charge of keeping the right tone and pace of the production and does so with great comic command of the stage.
The showstopper here, both in song and performance is the magnificent Ms. Carter who is absolutely striking to watch and commands the stage like few performers in recent memory. Ms. Carter's ‘Ladies Who Lunch' becomes a heart wrenching homage to her collapsing marriage and moreover, she possesses an alto belt worthy of diva status.
Ms. Didier has used the stage at Theatre Wit to the show's full advantage. Set designer John Zuiker has given the actors a gorgeous space on which to party, using the theatre's exposed brick wall as the main focal point of the loft design. Original art pieces by Matthew Lew are a perfect compliment to Zuiker's creation. The lighting design by Julie Ballard is simply beautiful. Ms. Ballard comes from lighting primarily dance productions and the soft hues she uses here only add to the sexiness of the design. Austin Cook has with him the great Sam Filip on bass and the sensational Matthew Sitz handling the percussion. Together they sound better then any three piece band in any jazz club in or out of Chicago.
Rarely to we get to see some as well put together as "Putting It Together". With a new Chicago-centric outlook of shows under new artistic director Michael Weber, Porchlight is off to a great start and we as an audience are sure to benefit from this new vision.
"Putting It Together" runs through October 2, 2011 at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are available by phone at 773-975-8150 or by visiting www.theaterwit.com.