Theatre pros bring Sondheim to life at Flying Anvil

Sandra ClarkOur Town Arts, West Knoxville

Anyone can direct a play. It’s sort of like whistling. Yeah. We all know, anyone can whistle.

What Jayne Morgan does at the Flying Anvil Theatre is not that hard. Just assemble a cast and design a stage and get the best music guy (Terry Silver-Alford) in town and make the lighting and costumes just right. It’s no big deal.

Actually, Morgan is a genius who makes it all look easy. Just a bunch of folks hanging out, dancing, singing and having fun. It helps to be directing “Side by Side by Sondheim” with lyrics and music by America’s premier lyricist of last century.

Don’t miss this play. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Aug. 18. Get tickets here or by calling 865-357-1309.

Ciarra Teasley, Brittany Pirozzoli, Geoffrey Scheer and Aleah Vassell

The set by John Ferguson is simple and stunning – a static black musical staff against a white background that changes with Jordan Vera’s lighting to reflect each song’s mood.

And the performance is perfectly cast with Geoffrey Scheer, Aleah Vassell, Ciarra Teasley and Brittany Pirozzoli on stage. (Silver-Alford and Casey Maxwell play pianos in the background.)

The show premiered in 1976 in London and has been in recent production in New York and Florida. The original called for three singers – two female and one male – and a non-singing narrator. At Flying Anvil, Morgan uses four singers – three female and one male – who alternate the narration. The show is roughly 95 percent music and five percent setup to introduce the songs.

Songs include Stephen Sondheim’s early hits from Broadway shows such as West Side Story, A Little Night Music and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Here’s a viewer’s guide to “Side by Side”:

Ciarra Teasley is best with her solos, “Send in the Clowns” and “I’m Still Here!” The first had the audience near tears, while the second was a thrilling manifesto to survival.

Geoffrey Scheer showed comedic skills in the trio “somewhat like the Andrews Sisters.” Hilarious. And he captured everyone’s attention with the solo, “Anyone Can Whistle.” He can slay a dragon and more, but he cannot let go, lower his guard, relax, risk and whistle.

Aleah Vassell and Brittany Pirozzoli were stellar with the duet from West Side Story, “A Boy Like That.” And the ensemble was hilarious with the advice from aging burlesque stars: “Get Yourself a Gimmick.”

Flying Anvil is handy to Sullivan’s Restaurant in Rocky Hill Center. (I recommend the pot roast with potatoes and green beans.) Jayne Morgan directs a delightful show. She can whistle and after a varied career, she’s still here. Go see “Side by Side.” You won’t regret it.

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