Grand Valley Opera Theatre returns to the stage with musical revue from iconic Broadway composer

Grand Valley Opera Theatre's return to live performances will feature the music of the legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim.

The musical revue "Side by Side by Sondheim" is scheduled for a run that begins with a 7:30 p.m. performance on October 8. Additional evening performances will be held on October 9, 15 and 16. There are also 2 p.m. performances on October 10 and 17.

The performances will be shown to a reduced-capacity audience in the Louis Armstrong Theatre at the Haas Center for Performing Arts on the Allendale Campus. The performance will feature songs from Sondheim productions such as "Company," "Follies" and "A Little Night Music." 

Performers at a rehearsal stand in a line with their arms in the air while singing.
Performers rehearse in the Haas Center for Performing Arts.

Just the return to the stage itself is a triumph for performers who have longed to be in that setting, said Dale Schriemer, director of Grand Valley Opera Theatre.

"It's so central to who they are and what brings them joy," Schriemer said. "They can sing with one another, get feedback, learn — it's so good to be in a room together."

Sondheim's work, known for its complexity, offers a particular chance for learning. The composer's work can be intense, exploring relationships and the human condition, he said.

"We're training them to be singing performers and Sondheim is the gold standard for that," Schriemer said. "These are pieces that challenge students' skills and force them to grow artistically."

Joe Mayer, who is majoring in music education with vocal emphasis major, said the rhythmic complexities and emotions in Sondheim's writing have beneficially stretched his abilities. He said what he is learning in this production is helping him develop more skills for his goal of teaching choir.

"Sondheim writes a lot about relationships and a lot about subtle themes. As a musician and as an actor, there's a lot of weight to carrying those subtle themes," Mayer said. "Other musical writers might say, 'This is a love song,' and then it's very easy to sing about love. With Sondheim there's so much complexity: 'Now I'm in love, now I'm in turmoil' and it's all in the same four measures."

A performer gestures with outstretched hands while singing.
A performer holds a pink-feathered fan while rehearsing.
A performer gestures with an outstretched right arm while singing. Other cast members are in the background.
Perfecting their performances: Students say Sondheim's work is complex and interesting, giving them an artistic challenge.

Elise Alvaro Dysart, who is pursuing a double major in music performance with a voice emphasis and advertising and public relations, said finding the nuance of Sondheim's work, and remembering that he likes to surprise listeners, has been gratifying.

"A lot of what Sondheim writes is really deep, so you need to dive in and push yourself as a performer to not only sing it well but to bring it to life," Dysart said.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit the event page for the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance.