|Index||3 reviews in total|
Watching this well-nigh perfect Sondheim compendium, I was struck by one incontestable fact: for most of us, these compilation shows (I include "Putting It Together and "Side by Side") ARE Sondheim. Living far from the big centres, we are unlikely to have productions of "Assassins" and "Sunday in the Park with George" pop up at our local theatres. So we owe a debt of gratitude to this "Celebration" for making the cream of Sondheim songs available ; principally, however, for presenting them, as here, in such sublime performances.
There's Liza, at the top of her game (this is 1992). Even the lady herself would admit that her days of climbing atop grand pianos in Carnegie Hall are, perhaps, (you never know with this gal!) long gone. But watch her with Billy Stritch and those stupendous dancers as she sings (what could be her own 2003 anthem!) "Back in Business".
Glenn Close shows how to handle the best known of all Sondheim songs, "Send in the Clowns". And, in what can only be described as a touch of choreographic genius, "Sooner or Later" has the wonderful Karen Ziemba do a tongue-in-cheek production number on Bill Irwin (Why didn't someone write a sitcom for these two following that performance? It's not too late!) If you like being "had", Dorothy Loudon's your girl: watch how she changes tempo, mood, even persona between "Losing My Mind" and "You Could Drive a Person Crazy".
"Sweeney Todd" provides a most effective chilling opening to the show (with the future Mrs. Lovett, the exquisite Patti LuPone, giving herself to "Being Alive") Later, the beautifully lyrical voice of Harolyn Blackwell reminds us (with "Green Finch and Linnet Bird") that "Sweeney" is not all dark and sombre tones.
Naturally, some of my own favourite Sondheim songs are not included. Some turned up in "Putting It Together" Others? Well, how about a full-scale revival and DVD-ing of "Side By Side By Sondheim"? Are you listening, Mr. Producer? We Sondheim fans out here in the sticks deserve it!
There is not a single weak link here. Superb performances of Sondheim songs by Liza Minnelli, Bernadette Peters, the incomparable Dorothy Loudon (she's so convincing in her portrayal of the fragile older woman that I feel guilty pressing the "rewind" button to make her do it all again!) There's an exquisite rendition of "Sooner or Later" (danced and sung) by Karen Ziemba, with a little help from Bill Irwin. Not to mention the late Madeline Kahn's contribution, "Getting Married Today".
The DVD presentation is exemplary, with each performer clearly identified on screen plus the song's provenance: just one carp! the 8 girl dancers are so impressive that they should be named on screen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Die-hard Sondheim fans or those who like his music very much will find
much to adore here. It is a great opportunity to hear old favourites as
well as some not-so-well-known numbers, and to have it performed by
talented performers(most very experienced in Sondheim) is even more of
a bonus. The concert is beautifully shot, never static and with an
intimate touch when needed, and the venue Carnegie Hall makes you feel
very welcome. The music is magnificent of course, what do you expect
from Sondheim, and I think of a bigger variety than his birthday
concert(which is still wonderful) a few years back with more stalwart
favourites and a more even balance of what musicals were included(the
birthday concert was very Follies-dominant). The orchestrations are as
rousing and lush as you could hope, and every nuance comes through in
the orchestral playing. The playing has lots of beautiful tone and
powerful, lively and nuanced are all done adeptly. Paul Gemignani's
conducting is accommodating and has complete authority, all tempos are
appropriate and there is a real sense that he has a love for Sondheim
and understands him.
The performances are little to complain about either. The highlight was Dorothy Loudon, who gives a truly affecting rendition of Losing My Mind(Follies) and You Could Drive a Person Crazy(Company) doesn't disappoint at all either. Bernadette Peters's Not a Day Goes By(Merrily We Roll Along) is equally deeply felt with a real connection to the words and mood of the song, she's also in much better voice than she was in the birthday concert. Sunday(Sunday in the Park with George, wish there was more numbers from that) is beautifully sung as well. Bill Irwin and Karen Ziemba dance and sing up a storm in Sooner or Later(Dick Tracy), great singing, dancing and acting from both and the chemistry too. Irwin's Evening Introduction is filled with zany humour that leaves you in a good mind for what is to follow.
Patti LuPone's Being Alive(Company) is done with such gusto and is enough to rouse the spirits, Liza Minnelli shows in Back in Business(Dick Tracy) that she still has it- likewise in a more restrained rendition of Old Friends(Merrily We Roll Along) and Harolyn Blackwell's bright clear voice is perfect for Green Finch and Linnett Bird(Sweeney Todd). Johanna/Pretty Ladies(Sweeney Todd) is suitably chilling, and all the ensemble- especially Our Time(Merrily We Roll Along)/Children Will Listen(Into the Woods)- and production numbers are very fine as well. Weekend in the Country(A Little Night Music) is very catchy if slightly repetitive and inventively staged. Lovely to see Jerry Hadley and Madeline Kahn here, they acquit themselves well here and both are still much missed. I've heard better renditions of Send in the Clowns(A Little Night Music), for example Sally Ann Howes(Judi Dench also) but Glenn Close does sport a surprisingly decent voice and it's still quite emotional, much better than Elizabeth Taylor's all-over-the-place rendition in the film at any rate. All in all, a fabulous concert. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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