Sondheim Tonight! -- the final offering in Everyman Theatre's cabaret series -- doesn't have a plot. But as performed by Judy Simmons, there's at least one small play in this polished, enchanting evening.
The miniplay is "I Never Do Anything Twice," which Stephen Sondheim wrote for the character of a madam in the 1976 movie The Seven Percent Solution. The comic song springs to bawdy life as Simmons relates scene after scene about the madam and her most colorful customers, accentuating each double entendre just enough to let us in on the joke without overplaying it.
"Anything Twice" is one of almost 20 songs on Simmons' hour-long bill, devoted to the work of the greatest Broadway songwriter of his generation. The fare ranges from such Sondheim classics as "Send in the Clowns" and "Broadway Baby" to the arcana of "No, Mary Ann" (from an unproduced film adaptation of a 1967 William Goldman novel).
Only slightly better known is "What More Do I Need?" a salute to city life from Sondheim's first musical, Saturday Night, which made its debut in the late 1990s, more than four decades after he wrote it. As Simmons extols every urban "delight" -- a pneumatic drill, a thundering subway, banging steam pipes -- her accompanist, Howard Breitbart, simulates the sounds on the keyboard until, all too appropriately, she finds herself competing with his deliberate cacophony.
Breitbart, who is also the show's music director, has come up with some stunning arrangements. The best -- a medley of "So Many People," "Not a Day Goes By" and "Loving You" -- moves from the unexpected to the inevitable as Simmons imbues each song with successive layers of yearning.
At the start of the show, Simmons refers to Sondheim's "range-defying, complicated melodies and intricate, intelligent, eviscerating lyrics." Whether wistfully capturing long-ago memories of sky and snow in Evening Primrose's "I Remember" or careering through the lickety-split lyrics of Company's "Getting Married Today," Simmons' command of Sondheim's complexity will please his fans and could even convert a few of the unconverted. But you'd better hurry -- regrettably, only three more "tonights" remain in the all-too-short run of Sondheim Tonight!
Showtimes at Everyman, 1727 N. Charles St., are 7:30 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday. Tickets are $20. Call 410-752-2208 or visit every mantheatre.org.
Rounding out season
Center Stage has filled out the lineup for its 2007-2008 season, adding a vintage comedy, a modern drama about a World War II veteran and August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone to the three titles announced last month.
The season will open with Joseph Kesselring's Arsenic and Old Lace (Sept. 14-Oct. 14 in the Pearlstone Theater). Center Stage artistic director Irene Lewis will direct this 1941 comedy about a pair of homicidal maiden aunts. Acknowledging that Kesselring's chestnut is an "unpredictable choice" for the regional theater, Lewis said, "It's a breath of fresh air to start [the season] off this way."
Arsenic will be followed by Hearts (Oct. 26-Dec. 2, in the upstairs Head Theater), by Willy Holtzman. The largely biographical play is based on the troubling memories of Holtzman's father, who was one of the first U.S. soldiers involved in the liberation of Buchenwald. The title derives from a weekly card game played by the protagonist and his buddies. "It's not a story you've seen before," says Lewis, who also praises the play's "unusual theatrical structure." Holtzman's play Something You Did received a staged reading as part of the theater's First Look series in 2005.
Joe Turner's Come and Gone (Dec. 7-Jan. 13, Pearlstone), the second chapter in Wilson's decade-by-decade chronicle of 20th-century African-American life, takes place in a Pittsburgh boarding house in 1911. When the play was first produced by Center Stage in 1989, the cast featured a young Jada Pinkett as the daughter of the main character, a man searching for his wife after he has spent 11 years in illegal peonage. Lewis calls the drama "probably one of the greatest American plays of the 20th century. ... It takes your breath away."
Dates and theaters have also been set for the previously announced plays (although the theater advises that titles and dates are subject to change): Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Feb. 1-March 9, Head), A Little Night Music (March 14-April 13, Pearlstone) and These Shining Lives (April 25-June 1, Head).
Subscriptions to the six-play lineup range from $60 to $300. Call 410-332-0033 or visit cen terstage.org.