How do you become a Sondheim?

By June 4, 2010 No Comments

A friend of mine who is in the film industry asked me the other day how I’ve become an “expert” on theatre? Enthusiast might be better than expert, but for now I’ll claim that the 123 shows I’ve seen (yes, I actually counted all my Playbills and yes, I’ve kept every single one) in the past 7 years gives me some credibility, right? 123 doesn’t include dance concerts and operas – I’ve invested more money into the arts during my life than anything else. Of all the hobbies and interests in my life I think I can really sum it all up in one word: I’m an ENTERTAINER.

So how did Sondheim become Sondheim? He’s known as one of the most brilliant composers and lyricists for musical theater in the 20th century. His shows include: Saturday Night, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, The Frogs, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Assassins, Passion and Road Show. He also wrote the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy. I’ve seen six of these shows on Broadway and hope to someday see them all (so we need a few more revivals, please). I can attest that his shows and songs have a way of griping your emotions. He has done well to share his brilliant gift with the masses.

Sondheim on Sondheim, a tribute show currently playing on Broadway, is a musical documentary of sorts. Daily News said the best thing about Sondheim on Sondheim is Sondheim. I couldn’t agree more, the beauty of this show is the media (interviews with Sondheim about his life and the creation of his works). The best and most memorable performance of the show is by Euan Morton (originated role of Boy George in Taboo) when singing ‘Franklin Shepard, Inc.” from Merrily We Roll Along.

I really loved learning more about Sondheim, the inspirations behind his masterpieces, how his career started and blossomed, his mentors, and the relationship with his mother, as well as glimpses into his failures. Interestingly, the show ran full production numbers on a few of his “failed” songs, which begs the question, if it wasn’t good enough to make it on stage then, why are you doing the full number on this occasion? The shorter highlights of failed songs and a glimpse into how they transitioned into hits was the better approach. The casting of the show was okay, no real all star performances even with big billed names (Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams and Tom Wopat). I kept wishing that they had convinced top names in the industry to sing the difficult ballads or represent songs from shows they originated roles in (such as Mandy Patinkin).

Overall, if you’re a Sondheim lover you’ll appreciate this show and what you’re able to glean from it, even though at times it seems little more than a college production.

Hot tip: If you’re under 35 you should sign up for Hip Tix, a special ticket program through Roundabout Theatre Company which provides the opportunity to get tickets for $21.50, in advance, for most of their shows.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.