Music & Theatre departments ‘Put it Together’

Guilford’s Music and Theatre Studies Departments’ production of Stephen Sondheim’s Putting It Together moved with a slickness worthy of The Music Man’s Professor Harold Hill.
With a spartan set of six chairs and two boxes, and costumes that seemed straight from the performers’ closet, the burden of carrying the performance fell entirely on the abilities of the singers.
Putting It Together established its light-hearted tone with its very first number. Entitled “Invocation and Instructions to the Audience,” it musically instructed the audience not to hum along, eat cellophane wrapped food, or “turn up the volume (if you have a hearing aid) too loud, lest you create negative feedback in audience members with pacemakers.”
The transitions between songs were swift and seamless, often not pausing long enough for the audience to applaud. I wasn’t even aware that the first three songs had passed by until the entire company froze in place for the first soloist of the night.
Every member of the six-person cast was given a chance to show off their impressive abilities, which they did with great success. Sondheim is notoriously hard to sing, as his lyrics and beats are closer to conversation than traditional musical standards.
Were it not for the musical accompaniment, one could have listened to performers Kass B. James and Julia Teitel sing “Country House” and swear they were a married couple having an argument, albeit an incredibly well annunciated and melodic one.
Of course, the same could be said for all of the singers. Students Greg Black, Trina Farmer, Susan Rahmsdorff and Nathan Sebens worked wonderfully together; it was almost eerie how well each of them slipped into character as they sang.
It’s a good thing the singing was so engaging, as there was a lot of it: some 33 songs divided between two acts.
Due to my own ignorance, I didn’t realize that “a musical revue” is not the same thing as “a musical.”
I expected blocks of acting intermixed with the occasional, show-stopping ditty. Instead, I got nearly two hours of singing with about five minutes of actual dialogue. And while there was some kind of skeleton plot involving a dinner party, the focus was clearly on the songs themselves.
In fact, the songs in Putting It Together were all taken from other Sondheim works, and the “plot” was crafted around this. So be prepared for a bit of head-scratching while you figure out what’s going on, as well as the occasional, broadly painted gender stereotype.
Another confusion came from the difficulty in understanding some song lyrics. Whether due to the acoustics, microphones, or singers themselves, they sounded somewhat muffled, even in the third row.
But these are merely nitpicks. If you ever desire some lighthearted singing and a well-put-together show to go with it, you couldn’t do better than Putting It Together.