Musical theater numbers and a three-course meal will make a mid-January Wednesday night in Newburyport a special occasion.
“Sondheim by the Sea” will transform Sea Level Oyster Bar into a downtown dinner theater, pairing voices from the neighboring Firehouse Center for the Arts and the Boston-based Entropy Theatre.
By night’s end, singers will have delved into Sondheim’s oeuvre from “West Side Story” to “Into the Woods.”
Director Joseph Juknievich said that Sondheim, the most decorated composer/lyricist in Broadway history, has been an innovator whose character-driven parts have made him seminal in American music theater.
His influence remains, but he is often not performed due to the size and cost of the productions and the music’s challenging complexity.
“Sondheim by the Sea” will feature 20 songs performed cabaret-style. From the light and witty to the dramatic and weighty. Sung in solos, duets and ensembles.
John Moynihan, executive director of the Firehouse, knows of no other time that the theater has produced a Sondheim show, though it did host an Acting Out Productions run of “Into the Woods” in 2015.
“Odds are that you know his music without even realizing it,” Moynihan said. “We have assembled an all-star cast that will blow our guests away.”
The evening opens with — appropriately — the song “By the Sea,” from the musical “Sweeney Todd.”
At a recent rehearsal, Amanda Giglio said that she especially looks forward to singing “Ladies Who Lunch,” from 1970’s “Company.” It’s a deliciously ironic number. She sings in the character of a woman bemoaning the way that frivolous females lead their lives.
“It takes place in a bar,” Giglio said. “A woman with a martini in her hand.”
The Sondheim show takes place at the back of Sea Level, fronting windows overlooking the Merrimack River.
The audience will sit at dinner tables arranged in a semicircle. The performance area will be lighted and the music delivered through a sound system.
Pianist Justin Knowlton will accompany singers Giglio, Daisy Walker, Becky Jo Roland, Koda Mehalba, James White and Ryan Lemay.
Moynihan has wanted to host a dinner-theater event since he arrived to the Firehouse in 2017.
“Both this and our ‘Cult Classic Cabaret’ happening on Feb. 12 are the Firehouse’s first foray into dinner theater, but certainly won’t be the last,” he said.
Dinner on Wednesday will be served throughout the evening, with breaks in the performances for serving and clearing.
The three courses include a choice of Caesar salad or clam chowder to start, followed by an entrée of crabmeat-crusted haddock or seared chicken Veracruz and watermelon sorbet or caramel pudding for dessert.
The event is a fundraiser for the Firehouse Center for the Arts and Entropy Theatre, both of which are nonprofit theater organizations.
The Firehouse previously worked with Entropy Theatre on “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 2018 and “The Rocky Horror Show” in 2019.
“With their commitment to producing theatrical experiences that entertain and engage their audiences on both a cerebral and emotional level, their vision fits in perfectly with what we aim to do at the Firehouse,” Moynihan said.
IF YOU GO
What: “Sondheim by the Sea”
When: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Sea Level Oyster Bar, Market Square, Newburyport
How much: $75, includes dinner and entertainment
More information: 978-462-7336 or www.firehouse.org