Friday, June 04, 2010

Sondheim On Sondheim (The SOB Review)

Sondheim On Sondheim (The SOB Review) - Studio 54, Roundabout Theatre Company, New York City, New York

**1/2 (out of ****)

Veritably playing into the hands of the would-be gift-giver in search of the perfect present for the ultimate Stephen Sondheim fan, Sondheim On Sondheim works as a mixed blessing for everyone else.

Now, let me be absolutely clear.

I've long since become a Sondheim-phile. I adore Sondheim. I cherish his music. I've actively sought out his works, including many of the lesser performed ones. Shortly before his 80th birthday, I even had an opportunity to meet him and then listen to him answer countless questions to further illuminate his creative process. In short, I revere him as one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and witty composers in the history of musical theatre. This genius we know as Stephen Sondheim is certainly nothing short of a living treasure.

And there's much to love and admire about this often hagiographic tribute revue, which was conceived and directed by one of Sondheim's frequent collaborators, James Lapine. For starters, compliments of Peter Flaherty's continuously unfolding projection design, Sondheim himself lords over the festivities with a banquet of anecodotes, along with a plethora of individuals trying to sing "Send In The Clowns" with varying success captured on YouTube. Yet I learned more about Sondheim during that aforementioned live Q&A than I did via the video snippets.

This revue does offer tremendous insights into how some of his songs made it into the final works, and how many -- shared here for the first time on Broadway -- did not. One of my favorite moments came as the precursors to Company's "Being Alive" demonstrated a captivating progression of creative thought from "Multitude of Amys" to "Happily Ever After" to that ultimate song to perfectly underscore Bobby's journey throughout the show. And to hear "Being Alive" delivered so gloriously by Norm Lewis was icing on the cake.

All in all, Sondheim On Sondheim carries eight tunes that never made it into the shows for which they were originally written. While it's lovely to hear anything Sondheim has composed (and I ate it up), it becomes resoundingly evident why many of them weren't used.

Then there are the great -- and, alas, not so great performances -- themselves spanning nineteen of his shows.

In addition to Lewis, it was thrilling to finally see the great Barbara Cook perform live (even if the teleprompter hanging off the mezzannine turned on each time she took to the stage); she's still in remarkable voice. Euan Morton and Leslie Kritzer's vignettes from Merrily We Roll Along not only made the best case for a full Broadway revival, but their very public audition should also serve to significantly increase their chances to be cast in it. And a ceremoniously frockless Vanessa Williams added radiance and the most sass since she was defrocked unceremoniously a quarter century ago.

Unfortunately, missteps include the usually reliable Tom Wopat being assigned "Epiphany" from Sweeney Todd; whether it was the song choice or his performance, it just didn't work. The same goes for Erin Mackey and Matthew Scott; they're fine singers, but both seemed out of their element throughout the show and detracted more than they added.

Still, Sondheim On Sondheim ranks as one of those shows I would not -- make that could not -- have missed. Overall, it's a nice tribute, but it pales in comparison to actually seeing one of his exceptional works.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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