ISO Pops ‘Sondheim Celebration’ Is Sublime

May 18, 2023

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra – Courtesy of Tom Russo. Used with permission.

Courtesy of Tom Russo. Used with permission.

Like most die-hard fans of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s music, I revel in the work of one of the most important figures in 20th-century musical theatre, who is cited for having “reinvented the American musical.” Thus, attending “A Sondheim Celebration,” presented by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at Hilbert Circle Theatre was an unmitigated treat.

Led by the always effervescent raconteur, conductor Jack Everly, the Pops concert was especially entertaining due to the exemplary caliber of vocalists, most with Broadway credits, who were featured guests. They included Liz Callaway, Beth Leavel, Norm Lewis, Jim Hogan, and IU graduate Katie Swaney. There could have been no better group of artists chosen to interpret selections from Sondheim’s groundbreaking songbook. Also adding to the luster of the concert was an outstanding vocal group called the ISO Pops Chorus, led by vocal director Greg Sanders.

Norm Lewis & Beth Leavel – Courtesy of Tom Russo. Used with permission.

Standing out for her performance was Callaway, who made her Broadway debut in Sondheim’s short-lived “Merrily We Roll Along.” A personal friend of Sondheim’s, with whom she also enjoyed a long-terms professional relationship, Callaway released a CD titled, “To Steve with Love: Callaway Celebrates Sondheim” in 2022.  Singing in her distinctive pure soprano voice, Callaway shined in “Another 100 People,” “Too Many Mornings” with Lewis, “Send in the Clowns,” and “Children Will Listen.”

Appealing baritone, Lewis, showed a formidable presence both as a singer and actor in his moving renditions of “Not a Day Goes By,” “Anyone Can Whistle,” and in a “Sweeney Todd” medley which included “Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” “My Friends,” and “A Little Priest,” along with Level, who sang the Mrs. Lovett part.

Showing off his substantial vocal chops was tenor, Hogan, a member of T.3, a trio that has become an internet sensation, and which won fame on “America’s Got Talent.” Hogan demonstrated his solo worthiness in “Putting It All Together,” and “Finishing the Hat.”

Leavel, the comedian of the foursome, displayed a powerhouse voice and personality in her renditions of “Ladies Who Lunch,” “Last Midnight,” and in “Broadway Baby” with Callaway and Swaney.

Katy Swaney – Courtesy of Tom Russo. Used with permission.

Swaney, a Greenwood native, earned a BFA in musical theatre from IU in 2020. A Great American Songbook Academy alum, she has not yet made her Broadway debut but gave evidence that she possesses both the belting vocals and stage persona it takes to perform on the Great White Way. She proved as much when she sang a haunting version of “Take Me to the World” from “Evening Primrose,” one of Sondheim’s more obscure musicals.

And of course, what is there to say about the ISO? They once again demonstrated their world-class musicianship through their impeccable artistry and faultless technique. Add to that Everly’s acumen as a conductor and arranger, not to mention lighting, sound, and costumes with a Broadway-quality flair —  it was a glamorous evening of song that proudly did justice to the canon of a genius who was a cultural game changer, revolutionizing the musical theatre genre.

photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Life. Style. Live!

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

On the Aisle Team

  • Creation, content, and publishing: Tom Alvarez
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