Great Performances

Sondheim! The Birthday Concert (16 Nov. 2010)

TV Episode  -   -  Biography | Drama | Music
8.6
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Join us for a rousing celebration of the life and work of one of Broadway's greatest legends - the one and only Stephen Sondheim.

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Join us for a rousing celebration of the life and work of one of Broadway's greatest legends - the one and only Stephen Sondheim.

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16 November 2010 (USA)  »

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Partial Sweeny Todd
Written by Stephen Sondheim
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A glorious tribute to a Broadway legend
22 June 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Count me in as somebody who is very fond of Stephen Sondheim, his melodies are always melodically rich and inventive and the lyrics witty and in instances quotable. A lot of his songs, like Send in the Clowns, are classics and stick in your head for days without being too repetitive, there are songs that rouse the spirits like Ladies Who Lunch and others like Losing My Mind and Not a Day Goes By that have a lot of meaning. This concert and tribute to him is just glorious and a must for any die-hard Sondheim fan. Some may miss the likes of Send in the Clowns or Epiphany, and wish there was more of A Little Night Music and Into the Woods in a programme that is Follies-dominant(not a bad thing, Follies is one of his greatest), but there are still a lot of favourites here and it was also refreshing to hear lesser-known numbers. And performed by performers either of the original cast or have years of experience in Sondheim.

Regarding the concert, there is very little to complain about actually, though the camera work definitely could have been more intimate and less of a at times frenetic music video. The venue is very inviting and gives the performers plenty of space and interaction, nobody looked as though they were stifled. Throughout the music is magnificent with not a single "bad" song, A Glamorous Life is my personal least favourite of the lot but even that song has its charms. The orchestration gives the music the richness it needs and the orchestra not just play beautifully but also know when to be rousing and when to be understated to give the appropriate amount of power and pathos. The conducting doesn't disappoint either, neither does David Hyde Pierce's nimble and amusing hosting or Lonny Price's intelligent direction that never comes across as too busy(even in the showstopper that is America) or too static.

There is so much to like about the performances, though there is a little fatigue in Bernadette Peters' vocal production, one wishes for more of George Hearn- another one of my favourite Sondheim interpreters- and I think something like Another Hundred People or Take Me To The World would have perhaps suited Audra McDonald more, this said she still does a fine job with A Glamorous Life. These come across as minor blemishes, if even that(call it small personal taste) because everything else is as outstanding as it is. America is a showstopper vocally and choreographically, A Little Priest was interesting if strange to have two Sweeney Todds with one Mrs Lovett, Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason are charming in Into the Woods, Mandy Patinkin's Finishing the Hat is done with much emotion and Nathan Gunn gives a haunting rendition of Johanna. In the first half Too Many Mornings stood out and was a huge surprise, McDonald and Gunn are very talented performers but not ones you'd normally associate with Sondheim and they are more than up to the task.

Highlights of the concert were Patinkin and Peters singing Move On, which was heart-wrenching and an extremely close runner-up to the highlight of the first half. Peters is not in her best voice but her rendition of Not a Time Goes By shows her understanding every word and meaning them, she looks like she is really living the emotion of the song and she sings very musically. So regardless of whether she has been better or not, having those things are just as important and more so actually and Peters's artistry really shines through. The second half is even better than the first, mainly because of the "sing-off-of-the-6-divas-in-red". Four of the 6 give among the 5 best performances of the night, the other going to Move On. Marin Mazzie's Losing My Mind was sublime, beautifully sung and incredibly heartfelt, the one time of the entire concert that left me deeply moved. In contrast Patti LaPone's Ladies Who Lunch is genuinely exciting, she is pitch perfect and seems to be really enjoying herself which allows us to do the same. Her consonants are clearer than they can be too. Donna Murphy's Could I Leave You is deeply-felt and quite powerful as well as sung with such passion. And Elaine Stritch closes the concert with I'm Still Here, it was a real crowd pleaser here and it is more than easy to see why, a tad over-acted in places but it is a song where it can be(big emphasis on that) easy to do so.

Overall, just glorious, it was clear that Sondheim himself loved it, the audience did and so did this viewer. 9.5/10 Bethany Cox


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