Friends celebrate Sondheim as duo
By putting Sondheim's songs in a certain order, these performers believe a love story unfolds.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
YOUNGSTOWN -- Local performers James McClellan and Liz Rubino believe their time has finally come.
After more than a decade of friendship and numerous appearances in the same stage productions, the pair have never performed as a duo -- until now.
"Our Time" is the name of their new cabaret-style show at Oakland Center for the Arts. It's an original revue by McClellan of the music of Broadway and movie composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
"Sondheim has been a favorite of mine since childhood," says McClellan, whose stage credits include the title roles of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" by Easy Street Productions and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" at the Oakland. McClellan calls Sondheim's material "consistently mature, intelligent, deeply felt stuff."
There are many great composers, but "Sondheim is the most challenging," says Rubino, an Oakland board member who starred in a cabaret show, "Ballads and Belters," last summer. With Sondheim, there is "so much feeling and so many layers to the music."
McClellan noticed the same qualities as he began to work on "Our Time" last winters. It's not a scripted show, but the order of songs is such that it implies a love story.
"It's stuff people can identify with," McClellan said. That is, meeting someone special, starting a relationship, annoying each other, breaking up and making up.
"When you put his songs in a particular order, you can tell the story of anyone's life," he added
"It just shows how well Stephen Sondheim does music," Rubino said.
Joining McClellan and Rubino will be pianist Anthony Ruggiero. "His presence will really be known," McClellan said. "The piano is a third character in this show."
Only two performances have been scheduled in Youngstown, but Rubino and McClellan believe the time will come that others will want to perform it, too.
McClellan researched other shows of Sondheim's music; one of the better-known ones is called "Side By Side By Sondheim." Several are available as rentals for community theaters. McClellan hasn't discovered one yet that has attempted to tell a love story in chronological order.
Another distinction is that McClellan incorporated songs that haven't been used in other revues or aren't always associated with Sondheim. His best-known remains "Send in the Clowns," from the Broadway show "A Little Night Music." However, people will hear songs by Madonna from the movie "Dick Tracy" without realizing that Sondheim wrote them, McClellan said. Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon and Frank Sinatra also have recorded Sondheim songs.
That "Our Time" is a two-person, cabaret-style show also may make it more attractive to theaters with limited space and finances, Rubino said.
The next step is to contact Sondheim or his representatives. "We need distinct permission from him," McClellan said. Asked about the likelihood of getting that approval, "I don't think that's outlandish," he said.
Rubino will promote "Our Time" through her company, Center Stage Performance & amp; Productions.
It's been a learning process for her, and a gamble worth taking: "So many things are tried. Some go somewhere, some don't. We have this passion, we have this idea and we have to try to do something with that. You never know where it's going to go."