The fall theater season got off to an elegant start Friday at the Bickford Theatre with a welcome revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical revue “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow.”
By its own admission in the first song, “there’s not much of a plot,” but who needs plot when you have the lush, elegant melodies and language of the great American master composer, delivered by six strong voices and a talented trio of musicians who receive some delightfully unexpected assistance?
First presented as a concert in 1983, the chosen songs—mostly lesser-knowns from the vast Sondheim songbook—cover his usual gamut of romantic reflections, from the dramatic (“Being Alive,” from “Company”) to the sweet (“This Is Nice, Isn’t It?” from “Saturday Night”) to the silly (“The House of Marcus Lycus,” from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”). Don’t worry, though, you also get a few favorites, including the ubiquitous “Send in the Clowns” (from “A Little Night Music”).
Director Eric Hafen and Scenic Designer Roman Klima have constructed a rather Spartan but functional set with a semicircle of stair-like platforms surrounding a center pit, occupied by Music Director-pianist Nick De Gregorio, bassist Jim Donica and percussionist Jonathan Gleich. De Gregorio was a clear standout as he tackled the demanding Sondheim melodies with dexterity and stylish flair.
The cast—three men and three women, coincidentally all making their Bickford debuts—bring some of the strongest voices heard here in years. Naturally, they start as an ensemble, winking their way through “Invocation,” from “Frogs,” a cheeky number that warns the audience not to bother them with ringtones, wrapped candies and other distractions. In lesser hands, such an a approach would be dangerously obnoxious, but Sondheim’s clever wordplay and the chipper mood shared by the cast make it fun.
From there, they pair off into singles and doubles, Hafen keeping an energetic pace as they work through 22 songs from 10 different Sondheim scores. Tamara Hayes solos on “What More Do I Need?” (from “Saturday Night”) and “Not a Day Goes By” (from “Merrily We Roll Along”), while Adrienne Hick powers her way through “Another Hundred People” (from “Company”) and returns for the climactic “Clowns” showstopper. Lindsay Wood delivers a tender “This Is Nice, Isn’t It?” and a sad “The Miller’s Son” (from “A Little Night Music”).
Two of the ladies also contribute impressively to the instrumental score as Hick plays a pretty cello on one number while Wood takes to the violin for two more. Hafen said later this delightful element of the production was a happy accident as they were not cast to play those instruments, but were recruited during rehearsals.
The men, too, make a strong impression. Tall, square-jawed Michael Pladgett packs an expressive baritone into two solos while Danny Arnold successfully reaches higher, but sadly doesn’t get his own solo showcase. Neither does pudgy Patrick John Moran, who eagerly leads the comic relief, particularly while being vamped by the ladies during his steamy visit to “The House of Marcus Lycus.”
Overall, a very pleasant launch for the busy fall professional theater season in New Jersey, although while this is the traditional launch date of Bickford seasons, “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow” is technically the second Bickford show of the 2012-2013 campaign. What’s more, the Bickford has announced an ambitious schedule of six more productions over the next year, including two summer shows.
Hafen produced his first summer musical this year and the production of “Nunsense” (officially launching the 2012-13 season) was a critical and box-office success. He’ll double down next summer with productions of “Nunsense II” and “Little Shop of Horrors.”
The current season, meanwhile, continues with the New Jersey premiere of Joe DiPietro’s “The Last Romance” (Nov. 15 to Dec. 2, with Jersey native DiPietro, author of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and the Tony-winning “Memphis” participating in a talkback), “A Tuna Christmas” (Dec. 13 to 30; directed by Playwrights Theatre Artistic director John Pietrowski) and Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite (April 18 to May 17). The list of announced shows concludes with “Grease,” set to run from Sept. 12 to Oct. 6, 2013.
“You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow” runs through Oct. 15 at the Bickford Theatre, 6 Normandy Heights Road (Morris Museum), Morris Township. Tickets are $20 to $45. For information, call 973-971-3706 or visit www.morrismuseum.org