I admit it. I am obsessed, monomaniacal even sometimes. But please, indulge me. If you find this tiresome, please feel free to skip to another blog.*
I am watching Sondheim! The Birthday Celebration. Some observations:
I adore David Hyde Pierce. Even given that someone else probably wrote his material, he presented the "let's do Sondheim in all the world's languages" bit perfectly. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Switzerland works for me. [ETA: Actually, looking at the show, he was one of the co-writers. So he did write his own material. Even funnier.]
The reason to love "America" is not Sondheim's lyrics, which are troubling, to say the least, or Bernstein's music, which is wonderful, but Jerome Robbin's incendiary choreography. There's nothing quite like seeing a bunch of stunning women dancing and flipping their skirts.
I understand why the more risque lyrics for "We're Going to Be All Right" never made it onstage during the original run of Do I Hear a Waltz -- it premiered in 1965. I'm not sure they would have flown. The line "Lately he tends to hit her" sung in such a jaunty manner would be jarring even today. (Which was probably the point.)
The "Sweeney Todd" running gag is amusing.
A lot of songs from Follies in this program. The choreography on "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love will See Us Through" is interesting, with the brief interaction between the Sally character and the Ben character, given what happens in the play. Also, is Jenn Colella really barefoot? [ETA: No, of course not. Those are just skin-colored shoes. Can't say I care for the look.]
Chip Zein and Joanna Gleason are just cute together. There is an obvious affection between them which shines through the original production of Into the Woods (available on DVD). (Joanna Gleason's Baker's Wife was the best thing about that production -- even more so than Bernadette Peters' Witch.) (And the intro comment: "[this play] explored the twisted pathways of the human psyche, and consequently is now performed by schoolchildren across America" made me snicker, because Railfan was one of those children.)
I understand that, at least in his television career, Mandy Patinkin is a diva. But man-oh-man, can he sing with nuance and meaning."Finishing the Hat" almost makes me cry. The ache of a man forced to choose between the woman he loves and the work he is compelled to do is overwhelming. And "Move On" -- such chemistry between him and Peters. When at the end of the song Patinkin whispers "I love you" to her, he clearly means it, and her "I love you too" is equally heartfelt.
And oh my God, is Michael Cerveris gorgeous. Shaved heads generally do things to me, and those smoldering eyes... He was once quoted as saying, "Anyone who finds a murdering barber sexy is someone you gotta be kinda nervous about, but I'm grateful for any attention." Well, then, be nervous about me all you want, but he just takes my breath away.
Hee hee, I love the interplay between the two Sweeneys, George Hearn and Cerveris. The latter pulling out the razor, and the look on Hearn's face is priceless. Hearn does a lovely job as Judge Turpin in "Pretty Women," and it would have been nice if they had done it in a production together. Patti Lupone makes a great Mrs. Lovett, and "A Little Priest" is the funniest of Sondheim's songs.
David Hyde Pierce finally got his chance to sing in different languages. Cute. And "Beautiful Girls" is the one song that sort of works for.
All the divas on stage in red: stunning.
I have seen Patti Lupone sing "Ladies who Lunch" before, in the cinema version of Company. The way she sings it is very different from the iconic Elaine Stritch version: her phrasing accentuates the jazzy Latinate beat of the piece, whereas Stritch's straight ahead delivery obscures it. Very different takes, but both are great. Stritch jumping up at the end to hug Lupone and say "I'm so proud of you" was heartwarming.
Again, a lot of songs from Follies -- three out of the six sung in this segment (four counting the "Beautiful Girls" intro). "Losing My Mind" might just be the best song about unrequited (or marginally requited) love ever written.** Not that I have ever felt like this. Nope, not at all. Marin Mazzie [ETA: helps to get the actress's name right] makes you feel all the pain and confusion that this state of mind carries with it. Again, stunning.
Audra McDonald's classical training shines through. The woman is an opera singer -- and while a lot of Sondheim's songs would be overwhelmed by that, those from A Little Night Music aren't (except Desiree's, which were written for an actor Sondheim and Prince had yet to hear sing (Glynis Johns) and whom they assumed had limited singing skills). "A Glamorous Life" works well with McDonald's voice.
Follies again. "Could I Leave You" may just be my favorite number from that show*** and Donna Murphy's version is the best I have ever heard. Her performance here, as well as Alexander Gemignani's "Something's Coming" and Bernadette Peter's "Not a Day Goes By" are the primary reasons I want a CD of this show. Murphy captures the bitter sarcastic humor (she had the audience laughing at a couple of points) before sucker-punching everyone with absolute rage.
Have I mentioned that when I die I want to be reincarnated as Bernadette Peters? No? That voice. That hair. That porcelain skin and hourglass, Gibson-girl figure. And that ability to convey emotion. "Not a Day Goes By" had me in tears.
Elaine Stritch doing "I'm Still Here": incredibly appropriate. I am sure that Stritch got the standing ovation in spite of a few flaws in her performance out of recognition of how the song reflects her realities and for all she has done over the years. She is truly a beloved figure.
I am so glad they had actors sing these songs. Not only was it nice to see people who had an actual connection with and obvious warmth towards Sondheim at work here, but these songs are meant to be acted -- body language is so important in conveying their meaning.
The Broadway chorus singing "Sunday" clearly affected Sondheim a lot, which is totally understandable. It is a gorgeous soaring piece, sung with feeling by a lot of people who know how to sing.
Finally: how like the honoree to say something sweet, short and on-point. In his writings, he comes across as a rather reserved (if very funny) man, and this was clearly in evidence here.
I so wish I could have been there that evening.
*Maybe I should wait on those two other Sondheim posts until later in the
year. I mean there is boring and then there is booooring.
**Okay, so it is not unrequited, but she is trying to figure out exactly what it is.
***It is "my I'm so mad at someone I could kill" song. Even when it is no one I am in a relationship with where the words are at all appropriate, singing allows for the catharsis of a LOT of bitterness.