OGDEN — Broadway on the Side is a newer company that is dedicated to trying to bring different experiences in the performing arts to northern Utah. From cabaret-style performances to fully mounted shows, this company is working to establish itself as an opportunity for entertainment value and a place where professionals and amateurs can learn and perform together. Their current production, Sondheim on the Side, is a short (under two hours) revue directed by Megan Worthen (who also stars as one of the players) that features several Sondheim favorites, a few unknown gems, and one original song by Worthen, which is a new practice at Broadway on the Side to foster new talent and skills in the area.
The cast consists of five players: Shaun Carr, Stephanie Carr, Em Matheson, Natalie Soto, and Worthen. They began the show with a fun introduction from a lesser-known number from Sondheim’s show The Frogs, “Invocation and Instructions to the Audience.” This was both a fun way to help the audience make good choices on how they would be expected to behave, and show us the varying levels of talent among the players and how they compliment each other. Something I really enjoyed throughout the show was how Worthen had chosen to pair some of the players, such as herself with Soto for the song “Giants in the Sky,” adding her strong vocals to some of the more complicated melodies and giving a chance for the younger Soto to have a learning experience with a more seasoned performer. This is a stated mission within the company website and was reiterated by Worthen in the announcement before the show began.
Broadway on the Side has taken up residence in a space in a strip mall that used to be a video rental store, a space that does not lend itself well to high-level technical stagecraft. In spite of this, I was impressed with the lighting design by Val Seiler. A few of the songs, such as “Rose’s Turn” and “A Little Priest” had some lighting changes that were unexpected for the space and helped move the story along. I enjoyed how both of the Carrs used their humor to motivate the storytelling part of the song of “A Little Priest.” Vocally, they are both strong, but that song takes much more than just vocal prowess. It is a song that takes humor, comedic timing, and understanding, and I was very glad to see that they were able to include all of those elements.
Matheson provided two different types of interpretation of songs with a melodramatic ballad with “Not a Day Goes By” and more humor from the iconic “Ladies Who Lunch.” Because the show was designed as a cabaret style, the players chose their own outfits, and I appreciated how Matheson wore a hat during the Ladies song and gestured appropriately at the right time. It is small moments like that that allow a cabaret to be more like a show. Even though Sondheim on the Side is not a fully staged musical, each song does tell a story. Having players who are more willing to push themselves to tell that story is more interesting for the audience.
There were group songs at the beginning and ending of each act, and I felt like they were the most enjoyable part of the performance. Worthen did an excellent job of bringing together the musicality of the group, and I found myself wishing for a few more group songs. While each individual number was enjoyable, the characterizations that the players built together in classic Sondheim songs like “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods and “Being Alive” from Company truly made the show shine.
In the end, it is a shame that more audiences are not aware of Broadway on the Side. Even though their current show took me about 20 minutes to drive to, I was only away from my home for a little over two hours. It was a nice little break for the evening, and a great way to be introduced to some of the talent that we have in northern Utah without having to commit to a full evening of theatre. Sondheim on the Side is a great way to have some family time or small time to dedicate to the arts.