Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Musical of Musicals - Sondheim on Sondheim - Musical Review Review

Sondheim on Sondheim - Studio 54 - Broadway, New York, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Conceived and Directed by James Lapine, Musical Staging by Dan Knechtges
Opens Apr. 22nd 2010, Closes Jun. 13th 2010. Note: Review based on preview performance.

To musical theatre fans, Stephen Sondheim is probably already a god for writing the "intelligent" musicals. To everyone else, Stephen Sondheim who? Oh, the guy that co-wrote West Side Story? (Actually, just the lyrics, but will non-musical fans know that? Or care?)

The Roundabout Theater Company now presents a new musical review celebrating the songs by Stephen Sondheim. It intermixes old and new interview clips with Stephen Sondheim himself, talking about his life, explaining the choices he made as he wrote some of his most famous songs, while a wonderful cast performs those songs live. A few songs that were cut from shows are explained and performed for our listening pleasure, and the interviews give us a peak into Sondheim's creative process, while we simultaneously get to enjoy his creative results. It's basically like a DVD extra come to life on stage.

Except, as much as I enjoyed the results of the night, particularly the top notch cast they've assembled (that includes Barbara Cook in her first Broadway musical appearance in 40 years, Vanessa Williams coming off the high of a terrific series finale for Ugly Betty, Norm Lewis (The Little Mermaid), Tom Wopat (A Catered Affair), and up and comers Euan Morton, Leslie Kritzer (On the Town, A Catered Affair), Matthew Scott (Ace) and Erin Mackey (Wicked)), I couldn't help but wonder if anybody but theatre geeks would enjoy this. (I brought my friend who enjoys musicals but is no expert and she seemed to politely appreciate the show while hiding her boredom).

To be honest, while I thought the interviews were fascinating, I thought they would go even further in depth into Sondheim's creative process, and only felt like he skimmed the surface of what how he truly works and thinks. There's some interesting tidbits about his personal life, but again, felt like it just hinted at something deeper that may or may not have affected his writing (though he claims most of the songs he writes are not at all autobiographical in any way with the exception of Merrily We Roll Along).

The staging and turntable set for the show helps move the show along with some clever usages of screens. And the cast is absolutely wonderful and the musical interludes are staged with enough theatricality to give the song a framework to understanding it.

There's a playful sense of humour amongst the cast, wonderfully mined by Broadway legend Barbara Cook who seems to lap up being the grand dame to her younger co-stars.

Vanessa Williams exudes sultry sophistication singing Sondheim's songs (sorry, I just had to!).

Matthew Scott is surprisingly wonderful (whom I missed as the lead in Ace the day I saw it) while Erin Mackey (probably the actor with the smallest show list in her bio) nicely fits in with her more seasoned castmates. A fave of mine, Leslie Kritzer shows again why she's moving up in the musical theatre world, while Euan Morton is so charming that I wish I had gone to see Taboo.

But overall, the excellent cast, singing some of Sondheim's incredible music, only made me want to see the original musicals even more (seriously, I know Company just had an excellent Broadway revival but can we have it back? Ditto with Sunday in the Park with George). Sondheim on Sondheim is well done, but in the end, still seems like an elaborate musical theatre history lesson you would take in university, except with an all-star cast presenting it.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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