"I really feel that it is a play that happens to be sung," Welch says. "I think it holds up a mirror and lets you take a long look -- and if you've ever been in a relationship, you'll be able to relate. How do you deal with boredom in a relationship? What is love? What is obsession? What happens when you stop being nice to each other? How do you hurt each other? What happens after a quickie? Do you stay? Do you run away?"
Putting It Together assembles more than 30 Sondheim songs into a rumination on love and infidelity, resentment and passion, with the greatest number coming from Merrily We Roll Along, Company, Follies and A Little Night Music -- and even from among the five songs Sondheim composed in 1990 for the Dick Tracy movie.
A older married couple (Judy Ann Moulton and Mark Cotter) host a cocktail party in their fancy Manhattan apartment for one of the husband's employees and his date (Dane Stokinger and Krystle Armstrong -- the leads, respectively, in CdA's earlier productions this summer, The Full Monty and Thoroughly Modern Millie).
They're joined by a fifth character, the Observer, played by Christian Duhamel (who was the leading man in Millie and the dweeb in Monty). Welch explains that the Observer's "personality and function change throughout the night. He may want to be a part of the rich and happy life or point out the irony of what happens when you get it all. The observer shows you what to look for."
Or, as Duhamel puts it, "The older couple have each other, the younger couple have each other -- and the Observer has the audience. He's kind of the audience's date."
Sondheim conceived this show in 1992, then changed some of his own original lyrics to suit the added plot elements of the following year's revision. As Duhamel says, "Unlike a typical revue, where you stand around and sing -- we call it 'park and bark' -- this show is telling us a story about this dinner party. Because of this constant framework, it's more than a cabaret."
Sondheim's style varies considerably from show to show, adding an additional challenge for singers in this revue. "For instance," says Cotter, "the songs from Dick Tracy are pure old-fashioned show-stoppers, while the songs from A Little Night Music are more contemplative, with softer chords and shorter notes."
As often in Sondheim's works, the plot is character-driven -- the story's tension and humor is less situational than psychological. For example, "Hello, Little Girl" from Into the Woods -- which originally had Wolf salivating over Red Ridinghood -- is revised for this show so that the Wife is forced into the role of Grandmother while the Husband harbors his wolfish desires for the Young Woman.
Performing a song out of context -- taking it away from the show for which it was written -- can actually have its advantages, says Cotter, who played the demanding boss in Millie and will play the lascivious Husband here. With the switch from fairy-tale prowling to big-city adultery, says Cotter, "The intention in both of these situations is similar, but there is a different edge to it."
The Wife has some fidelity issues of her own. In "Everybody Ought To Have a Maid," she's "playing a whole game of flop and tickle with the Observer," says Welch. The original setting of "Maid" in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was for four sexist men, but Moulton -- in a role previously played by the likes of Diana Rigg, Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett and Kathie Lee Gifford -- will perform the number as a comic duet with Duhamel.
As incisive as Sondheim's lyrics tend to be, Putting It Together still has its funny sequences. "The humor comes out of the situations," says Welch. For example, in "Lovely" (from Forum), the Young Woman "sings about how vapid she is. She doesn't read, she can't cook -- but she's really good at being lovely," says Welch. "What's funny is that then the Wife, who's older and smarter, gets up and does a parody of that song."
With its double and triple perspectives on gender roles, infidelity and forgiveness, Putting It Together doesn't merely offer tuneful escapism.
Putting It Together at NIC's Schuler Auditorium on July 19-21 and July 25-28 at 7:30 pm, with matinees on July 22 and July 29 at 2 pm. Tickets: $32; $30, seniors; $22, children. Visit www.cdasummertheatre.org or call (800) 4-CDA-TIX.