AFTER MONTHS of work, Cabaret in the Square has just opened at the corner of Main Street and Harlem Road in Snyder. Located a short walk from Summerfare at Daemen College, it's entirely possible that no square block of suburbia in America has more musical theater.
Mary Kate O'Connell and company have refurbished this space into an impressive home for their troupe (called, appropriately, O'Connell and Company) with a warm ambience, comfortable seating and a particularly lovely entryway through the square's terrace.
"Side by Side by Sondheim" is the Cabaret's inaugural show -- a revue with narration that features over 27 of the composer's works. Included are songs from shows for which he wrote the lyrics ("Gypsy," "West Side Story" and "Do I Hear A Waltz?") as well as those for which Sondheim composed both words and music, including "A Little Night Music," "Anyone Can Whistle," "Follies" and "Company."
Anne Gayley, Buffalo's answer to Carol Burnett, makes a marvelous narrator and takes to the stage for high camp as the madam in "I Never Do Anything Twice." While she doesn't claim to be Betty Buckley, she has a wonderful way with a song. (I would have loved to hear her do "I'm Still Here" -- the battle hymn of the battle-ax.)
Tenor Jeff Venuti comes to Buffalo with experience from the Syracuse Opera under his belt. His two solos, "Anyone Can Whistle" and "Marry Me A Little," were vocal highlights. Not a lot of shtick with his numbers -- just pure singing at its best.
In the other male role, Peter Palmisano has more to do, but often chose to sing in a kind of breathy half-voice falsetto. His full-voiced "Could I Leave You?" late in the evening showcased both his vocal and comic capabilities and made me wish he let loose more in his other numbers.
Katy Clancy also has some fine moments -- especially "Losing my Mind" and "Getting Married Today" from "Company." She and O'Connell team up for the riotous "Can That Boy . . . Foxtrot" in which they praise the awe-inspiring "techniques" of their local grocery clerk, who can't dance.
If you are an O'Connell fan, this is the show for you. In addition to all her other duties (she probably made the intermission coffee and sewed the drapes) she appears in 20 of the 27 pieces. She does a diva turn on "Send in the Clowns" and does a terrific version of the Bernadette Peters' signature "Broadway Baby." She shows her flair for the comedic in "The Boy From" and has some self-deprecating fun in the brassy "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" from "Gypsy."
As this was opening night, there were still a few minor pitch and blend problems, which should fade throughout the run. Musical Director Ann Mosner nicely handled the piano, although it seemed a bit loud in some of the ensembles.
Considering "Side By Side By Sondheim" represents only the composer's work up to 1976, Sondheim is nothing if not prolific. His songs are terrific, but there are a lot of them here -- a bit of judicious editing might be in order. While the show focuses on many of Sondheim's obscure works, the medley at the close of the show features many of his most popular songs, with some notable exceptions ("Officer Krupke," "Small World"). It seems a bit out of place, as it repeats many of the songs heard earlier in the evening, and at times does indeed "lose the spark."
While the opening of a new theater is always exciting, the real star here is Sondheim, whose music and lyrics stand the test of time, even when his subject matter is outdated.
Side by Side
Musical revue of Stephen Sondheim's show tunes. Directed by Roger Paolini for O'Connell and Company.
Through Oct. 24 at Cabaret in the Square, 4476 Main St., Snyder (839-3949).