Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sondheim on Sondheim

Posted by Mondschein

"Sondheim on Sondheim" presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, April 3, 2010

In a continuing year of celebration of Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday, the Roundabout presents a new revue of his life and works.  Frequent collaborator James Lapine conceived and directed the event, including songs from his earliest to the most recent efforts, combined with a series of recorded video clips of various interviews with the man himself.

Mr. Lapine has assembled an attractive, if uneven, cast for the show, including Barbara Cook in her first extended Broadway run in almost 30 years.  Vanessa Williams also returns to the boards, along with Tom Wopat, Euan Morton, Leslie Kritzer, Norm Lewis, Erin Mackey and Matthew Scott.

The songs are wide-ranging, covering stage and television musicals from 1946 By George, written while a student at the George School, to 2008's Road Show.  The early work reflects the period, at times Porter-esque, though Oscar Hammerstein was as much a father figure as he was a mentor and teacher.  There are also a couple of numbers that were written and cut, including "Smile Girls, Smile" from Gypsy, "Invocation/Forget War" and "Love Is in the Air" from ...Forum and "My Husband the Pig" from A Little Night Music.  ("Invocation" turned up later in The Frogs, which was otherwise unrepresented during the evening.) 

Performance-wise, this is Ms. Williams' evening.  Nearing the painful beauty of Catherine Zeta Jones, her impeccable presence captivates the audience.  Ms. Cook, frail, but in fine voice comes in a close second, reminding the audience of her unmatched skill as a singing actress.  Mr. Wopat, however, is only occasionally serviceable. His discomfort, most particularly in "Soliloquy" from Sweeney Todd is painful to watch. The other songs are better, but not by much.  It's Mr. Morton who stands out among the supporting performers.  He finds interesting and distinct characterizations, notably in the Merrily We Roll Along sequence.  Mr. Lewis sings well, though comes off a little bland.  Ms. Kritzer also finds a few nice moments, but felt a little restrained as Mary Jane Moore in the Assassins segment.

Mr. Lapine's compilation of songs are interesting, even puzzling at times.  The materials is good, but I think there have been better arranged revues of Mr. Sondheim's work.  His direction is simple and elegant, though Beowulf Boritt's set pushes Dan Knechteges' musical staging toward the awkward on occasion.

Sondheim on Sondheim runs through June 13.

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