and the four-member cast settles in -- there is a pleasant evening of entertainment in "Side by Side by Sondheim," the musical revue that opened last week at d.c. space.

It is composed of two dozen or so numbers from such Broadway shows as "Pacific Overtures," "Follies," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "A Little Night Music" and "Gypsy," shows for which Sondheim wrote either the lyrics or both music and lyrics. No one working in the Broadway musical theater today has his literacy or sophistication, and the songs, even when wrenched out of context, often constitute mini-plays on their own.

The performers -- Wayne Anderson, Gregory Ford, Tonette Hartmann and Kathleen M. Goldpaugh -- are all a mite too young for Sondheim's world-wearier laments. And since Goldpaugh had to step into the cast on short notice, the opening night performance had its hesitancies. But there is an agreeably antic spirit to the show, especially when the men are pressed into service alongside the women for that Andrews Sisters pastiche, "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" from "Company." With a bewilderment that gives way to enjoyment, they simply resort to falsetto.

Director Fredric Lee could afford to cultivate the playful lunacy even more, just as he should probably tone down the dramatic intensity brought to bear on such songs as "Losing My Mind," the centerpiece from "Follies," or "A Boy Like That" and "I Have a Love," those two outcries from "West Side Story." Right now, the performers tend to push too hard, forgetting that Sondheim's lyrics deserve the front seat.

Still, the production pulls off some nice moments and some adroit switches. Having Ford singing "Could I Leave You," Alexis Smith's defiant challenge from "Follies," effectively turns it into an effete Noel Coward ditty. Hartmann makes a perky contribution with "We're Gonna Be Alright." But it is Anderson who comes off best. He handles both plaintiveness ("Anyone Can Whistle") and pizazz ("Buddy's Blues") with relative ease, although he has a tendency to make expressive faces.

There's really no need. Sondheim is the show and his lyrics don't require any decoration, facial or otherwise.

SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM. Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Fredric Lee; musical director, Barbara Durost.