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'Side By Side By Sondheim': 35 Years And 'It's Still Here'

Nadya Faulx
Chesley Moore, Karla Burns, Ray Wills and Allison Chambers rehearse a number from "Side By Side By Sondheim" Tuesday at the Forum Theatre.

Side by Side Final Weekend 7-24 --  7-26 at the Scottish Rite

A couple of local Broadway stars are starring together  - again  - in a production by the Forum Theatre.

For Ray Wills, the latest show, officially opening Friday at the Scottish Rite Center, marks his third run in "Side By Side By Sondheim," and a reunion with Karla Burns.

The show is a review of early Sondheim songs from "Follies," "A Little Night Music," "Company," "West Side Story" and others. It originally opened in London 1976, came to Broadway in 1977, and to Wichita with Wills and Burns in 1980 at the Marple Theatre.

Credit Nadya Faulx
Allison Chambers and Chelsey Moore rehearse 'Side By Side' onstage at the Forum Theatre.

"It doesn’t feel like that long ago. But it’s so amazing how life goes in circles and here we are back doing the show again," Wills says.

"I remember I was a kid, and I was in college still and Karla was getting ready to go off and become the star she did, and I said one night during this show at the Marple, 'Well, gee, I don’t know, I want to do this song and I want people to like it and I hope they like me and I hope they...'

And Karla said, 'Play to express, not to impress.' And I always remembered that and it’s such good advice: Play to express, not to impress."

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at "Side By Side By Sondheim":

"It’s time her life is changing," Burns says of the ballad "Send in the Clowns," sung by the character Desiree in "A Little Night Music." 

Credit New York Public Library Digital Archives
Burns performs in a revival of "Showboat" on Broadway in 1983.

"Her career, she’s losing her timing. So much about her is different. She’s not quite as beautiful, she’s not quite as wonderful as she was. And it’s a difficult song to sing and keep your spirits about you because it can mean a lot of things. I know at the time I was asked to sing it, it was actually before I was really feeling good about singing again after a big surgery that I’d had."

Credit Nadya Faulx
Karla Burns rehearses "Send In The Clowns" Tuesday at the Forum Theatre.

"They thought I'd never sing again. Doctors, everybody. I don’t think that I ever let that be a choice. I said that the one thing that I knew I needed to do was to have the passion and the desire and I needed to pray and do this therapy. It wasn’t up to anybody else but me. Nobody else could fix this but me, and God, and [I] set on my way to do that. So I never thought about not singing again."

This story originally aired during Morning Edition on 07/17/2015.

"Side By Side By Sondheim" July, 17 - 25

Forum Theatre, Scottish Rite Center

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Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.