As a bit of a theater nerd, I believe I have seen every tribute to Stephen Sondheim ever created--and let's be honest, that's too many to count these days! But seriously, what's not to love? And why not? With such a terrific oeuvre, I'm not complaining. Even so, I found "Sondheim: The Birthday Concert" to be especially effective. Most of these retrospectives feature the top echelon of talent--and this is certainly no exception. What was refreshing, however, were the more unusual selections to make it into the concert. There weren't the typical warhorses you might expect (nary a "Clown" in sight). Heck, you know things have gone wonky when one of the featured numbers is a dance to the "Theme to 'Reds'." All in all, then, the surprises are what make this particularly noteworthy.
The absolutely transcendent highlight of the show comes near the end as six actresses square off center stage. But before I get to that, I'll just say that David Hyde Pearce is a nimble host. The earlier moments that stood out for me are the pairings--Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley are a delight, Joanna Gleason and Chip Zien have a charming reunion from "Into the Woods" and Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin slay with a powerful selection from "Sunday in the Park With George." But truly, no one hits a wrong note here--the entire production is spot-on.
But the Diva sing off is beyond words. With Peters, Mazzie, Donna Murphy, Patty LuPone, Audra McDonald, and Elaine Stritch--you think I'm going to say I didn't like it? Not a chance. LuPone is strong, McDonald (one of my all time favorites) is precise, and Stritch belts out her signature number to crowd pleasing perfection (however, it is the third concert this year where I've seen her do it). Peters, always perfection, is quite understated and touching. Donna Murphy almost steals the show with the impassioned "Leave You," a remarkable performance that took me by complete surprise. But without a doubt, it is Marin Mazzie that blew the rafters off at our home. She takes the reliable standard "Losing My Mind" (and who doesn't love that to start with?) and absolutely tore it up with such heartfelt gusto. I truly felt I was hearing the song for the first time--and that's saying a lot. There is charm to spare here, and if you're a fan--you'll absolutely want this beauty for your collection. KGHarris, 11/10.
on September 15, 2010
I was lucky enough to be there as well and I have to say... buy this without a question. Totally magical, David Hyde Pierce was a marvelous emcee, and the cast was obviously star-studded. Only Stephen Sondheim's birthday could bring these amazing performers together. Worth it just for the overwhelming finale; I don't think there was a dry eye in the audience. Just buy it.
on November 18, 2010
if only to see and hear "Losing My Mind" (Marin Mazzie- Follies)SHOW-STOPPER!!! and "The Glamorous Life" (Audra McDonald- A Little Night Music), "Leave You" (Donna Murphy- Follies), "Not a Day Goes By" (Bernadette Peters- Merrily We Roll Along), "I'm Still Here" (Elaine Stritch- Follies).
Living proof that musical-theatre can indeed be ART!
on December 10, 2010
"Sondheim: The Birthday Concert," filmed at Avery Fisher Hall (Lincoln Center) in New York City this past March, is the most recent in the string of 'Great Performances' telecasts conceived in part by conductor Paul Gemignani. Previous credits include 'Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall,' and the two 'My Favorite Broadway' revues-'The Leading Ladies' (Carnegie Hall), and 'The Love Songs' (City Center). While 'The Birthday Concert' is certainly a must for the die-hard Sondheim fanatic-myself included-the series of musical selections is a bit more subdued than usually expected from Gemignani. Each of his previous well-known revues featured multiple showstoppers, including multiple numbers highlighting not only the vocal talent, but the power and versatility of the orchestra, a feature unique to the orchestra-on-stage model of the revue. Unlike his previous compilations, including those exclusively dedicated to Sondheim, 'The Birthday Concert' focuses on rarely-heard works, performances by original cast members in original roles (with less than their original power), and the dynamism the defines Sondheim's collected body of work. For the Sondheim novice, much of the significance could be easily lost. For the Sondheim veteran, 'The Birthday Concert' is a dream come true.
Ironically, the highlight of the first act is a hard-hitting, emotional performance of 'Too Many Mornings' from FOLLIES, by powerhouses Audra McDonald and Nathan Gunn-two artists not remotely associated with Sondheim's work on Broadway. Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin revisit original roles in 'Move On' from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, by far the best-sung of the "originals" section of the evening. George Hearn and Michael Cerveris, the original and revival Sweeney Todds, are joined by Patti LuPone, Mrs. Lovett to both previous Sweeneys, in a trio revision of 'A Little Priest,' which, though fun to watch, is not Miss LuPone's best performance of record. In a deliberate effort to bring new talent into the regular review circuit, director Lonny Price recruited up-and-coming talents Michael Cavenaugh, Bobby Steggert, Jenn Colella and Laura Osnes for 'You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through' from FOLLIES. While the number is charming, the men appear stiff and the ladies nervous.
The second, much shorter half of the evening features six solo numbers by six divas of the New York stage, each clad in custom red Von Furstenburg gowns. Their parade entrance to 'Beautiful Girls' (FOLLIES) alone was worth my ticket, much less the purchase price of the DVD. LuPone breathed new life into 'The Ladies Who Lunch' (FOLLIES), a number long associated with Elaine Stritch. Marin Mazzie belted an emotional 'Losing My Mind' (FOLLIES) in implicit homage to the late, great Dorothy Loudon. Audra McDonald dazzled (as always) with the once-discarded version of 'The Glamorous Life' (NIGHT MUSIC), and Donna Murphy showed she can sing while pissed in 'Leave You?' (FOLLIES). Peters was the only of the six women to sing the Sondheim number with which she is traditionally most associated, reviving her fabled 1992 performance of 'Not a Day Goes By' from MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. Showing her age and decreased power, Peters might have been best served to leave the performance fabled. Stritch closes the evening with a rousing, poignant rendition of 'I'm Still Here,' from FOLLIES, receiving the evening's only standing ovation.
All in all, 'The Birthday Concert' is an undoubted asset to the collector of Broadway revues and all things Sondheim. Given its lack of heavy-hitting numbers, its skewed focus on FOLLIES and SUNDAY, and the conspicuous absence of both Liza Minnelli and Angela Lansbury, it fails to top Gemignani's previous efforts. Still, though, highly recommended.
on September 3, 2010
My aunt and I were there as the concert was filmed live. It was definitely a memorable evening. It's as if time stood still as brilliant performers recreated their legendary performances such as Bernadette and Mandy singing "Move On" from "Sunday in The Park" and the baker and his wife- Chip Zien (one of the nicest people to meet in person) and Joanna Gleason singing "It Takes Two" from "Into The Woods." Patti sings "Ladies Who Lunch" in front of Elaine Stritch and Elaine performed "I'm Still Here" as the finale. (I wish they would have swapped songs.) And Bernadette did "Not A Day Goes By," again.
Nothing from Gypsy but Sondheim didn't write the music.
It was a historical night we'll never forget. And we met Dr. Ruth who was sitting next to us!
There are more concerts and Revues to celebrate the music of Stephen Sondheim's works than most composers wrote shows. They began with thye best, "Side By Side By Sondheim" in 1977 in London and made it stand out because they took the three greatest English performers alive and utilized a LOT of music that Sondheim fans had never heard. Then "Putting It Together", "Marry Me a Little", "Celebrate Sondheim", "Sonddheim at Carnegie Hall", "Bernadete Peters sings Sondheim", "Barbara Cook: Mostly Sondheim"- for God's sake, even Madonoa sang Sondheim at the Oscars, quivering with nerves over material tha was far too hard for her- but even Barbara Cook has cursed over the challenge of singing Sondheim. ("It's these damn INTERVALS!" she exclaimed as she rehearsed for the 1095 famous "Follies in Concert" filmed and recorded live at Avery Fisher Hall-yet another)
On March 22, 2010, Stephen Sondheim turned 80 years old and David Hyde Pierce, Chip Zien, Lonny Price and Paul Gemignani arranged a concert in his honor. This was a concert to please him, not the public. We didn't hear "Broadway Baby" again; We were not forced to listen to one more amazing singer sing "Send In the Clowns" (a song that is so eassy to sing that Strohm Thurman could've recorded it) and instead we had the New York Philharmonic, Hyde Pierce's comic reparte' and the finest most famous theatre performers in history to do a live birthday concert for him which, fortunately, was beautifully filmed and is now, without question, the greatest evening of Sondheim to date.
There are moments of revisiting the original: Mandy Patinklin and Bernadete Peters singing "Move on", Johanna Gleason and Chip Zien" with "it Takes Two", and the new cast performance of "America" which was as good, if not better than the original. Despite Sondheim's insistence that his weakest lyrics are "West Side Story", we know, as we watch "America", that these women are really communicating with each other in Spanish- as Fosca and Georgio are communicating in Italian- and the performance here is spectacular. Perhaps "West Side Story" IS Sondheim's weakest, but that still makes it far stronger than most other musicals. Despite my argument, he still disagrees with me. you decide. Alexander Gemignani gives the finest and freshest performance of "Something's Coming" that we've heard yet and there's a spectacular moment when we end up with two Sweeney's and one Mrs Lovett on stage, where after a small bit of eye contact and negotiation they turn "a Little Preist" into a trio that pleases those of us who know the piece very well and titilates those who are hearing it for the first time.
About three quarters of the way through the concert, six straight back chairs are placed down center and into each chair is placerd a legendary diva. Bernadette Peters, Mrie Mazin, Patti Lupone, Audra McDonald, Elaine Stritch and Ann Rankin. Each woman is wearing an original gown designed foe the actor but made of the same fabric and one by one each woman steps down stage and sings a classic, remarkable Sondheim masterpiece, but not at all the piece you would expect. (In fact, the graciousness with which Elaine Stritch appaluds Patti LuPone's "Ladies Who Lunch" is as moving as stritches performance of "I'm Still here." And LuPone finally won my respect with her performances here.)
The conert ends with the two songs you would expect, but in both cases there is a twist and in deference of a spoiler alert let us just say that there are two surprise elements that make "Sunday" the finest performance ever done here, and then Sondhei8m's modest, thank you following Mildred and Patty Hill's "Happh Biorthday" (at a royalty cost of about $700 to Chappell Warner) The thirteen people who spoke their opinions to this critic regarding the final twenty-five minutes of this show had one common reaction: tears. Tears of memory. Tears of possability. Tears in regard to the white page or canvas (so many possabilitie...) tears of nostalgia as they recalled their own lives at the time they heard these songs for the first time.
As for this critic I shall say what I've been saying since 1978: Stepen Sondheim's work will last as long as Shakespeare, Mozart, Bach or Williams; so that owning a hared copy of the score may be enough. But as I've also said, as I indicate a stack of printed manuscruipt paper, this is not music: this is a recipe for music. And any chef who follows a recipe exactly as written is mediocre at best. The art of music ad lyric is meant to be heard in a specific moment in time by an audience in a specific mood based on how his or her day was- this is why life theatre persists today; there is never a repeat performance. The fact that this DVD exists is miraculous because to have assembled this talent, this material on the day of this composers 80th birthday (and to see him cover his eyes with emotion from his aisle seat in the audience- Steve is a humble man)and then recorded it, even though a DVD doesn;t capture the magic of the live event, this DVD is strong enough to move you.
And when you see what it is that they did for the Finale, you will begin to feel a tightening in your throat even before they reach measure 9. The miracle of the material, the man, the music and this evening come to life like a religious rxperience.
on December 19, 2010
I decided to add my two cents since no one seems to have felt exactly as I did so my feelings might be helpful to anyone reading the other comments. First, and obviously, if you are a fan of Sondheim's work and haven't bought this, do so immediately. No qualms about portions of the whole should keep you from buying it. But do know what you're getting. More than one number seems less-than-well-chosen. America from WEST WIDE STORY is a waste of time. It was neither original nor magnificently done. Not horrible by any means, just superfluous. Same for Something's Coming. Why? Couldn't that time have been given to pieces with music and lyrics by one of the great composers in Broadway history? The Quartet from FOLLIES is very clever writing but the performers seem a tad bit under-rehearsed. And, frankly, it's hardly unknown. As at least one other reviewer has noted, A Little Priest is more stunt than stunning, Patti LuPone trying too hard to come up with less. Probably live was better. And though Audra McDonald is a marvelous partner to Nathan Gunn in Too Many Mornings (a highlight for me, in fact) her song in the finale is, well, stupid. It's a cut number from the movie version of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC written to be sung by a child. It's not a bad song, but does not belong in this finale of great pieces. Surely, Another Hundred People or Take Me To The World or something more worthy of her could have taken its place. Uncharacteristically, she seems to be trying too hard herself, as if "proving" this deserves her attention. NOT McDonald at her best (or Sondheim, for that matter, though at least it's rare.) And Bernadette Peters gives such a stunning rendition of Move On with her original co-star Mandy Patinkin (probably the best minutes in the whole concert) that her subdued Not a Day Goes By seems anemic. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, just not the heart-breaking version that the Carnegie Hall or one-woman show performances were. And finally, I can't be the only one who thinks Elaine Stritch has become a caricature of herself. Her talk/scream performance of I'm Still Here made me want to say "It's time to leave, then." And I am a fan (was a fan?)
But so much else is wonderful. Even a little throw-away juvenilia number Don't Laugh is performed delightfully by Victoria Clark. ALL the numbers from SUNDAY IN THE PARK are moving including the "finale of hundreds." Pretty Women is better than A Little Priest. So Many People is a lovely song, simple really, done in a lovely simple way by Laura Benanti. The duet from INTO THE WOODS is a gem, joyful even. Patinkin's bitter / painful / heartbroken version of Finishing the Hat is even better than the video decades ago (which is saying A LOT!) Certainly, this proves that a sometimes idiosyncratic performer like Patinkin has a justified reputation. It packs a wollop to be immediately followed by the bigger hit of the tear-producing Move On. The Road You Didn't Take becomes all the more poignant coming from a man who is NOT middle-aged, but near the end of his life. It changes the meaning of the song, but it is a worthy entry to the playlist of the concert. Growing Up will be new to many fans, being a song added to MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG after its original run. Having an original member of the Broadway version seems a bit odd since he never sang it in the show, but the nice performance by Jim Walton, who is now middle-aged, leaves a touching irony behind. It had to be an important moment for Walton, since he was so criticized when the original opened (as if he had anything to do with its problems.) He does not over-perform it. Good for him.
Then the finale of the ladies. If only three of the six are really sublime, those three are SUBLIME! Patti LuPone makes up for Priest with a pitch-perfect The Ladies Who Lunch. Marin Mazzie leaves behind a marvelous version of Losing My Mind. Surely it belongs in the great pantheon of performances like Dorothy Collins and Barbara Cook (and I would include Dorothy Loudon.) Which leaves Donna Murphy topping all the others in Could I Leave You?. Just watch it, you'll see. Leaving Stritch to the last of the six makes perfect sense in every way, but I couldn't help but think it a let-down. The audience--and the other reviewers on here--did not agree with me, so you can make up your own mind. As for Peters and Not a Day...if you don't have the Carnegie Hall concert or her one-woman show in London, they would be worth every penny just to have those five minutes. If you don't know those, perhaps her more subdued though well-sung version on this DVD will not disappoint.
So some minor disappointments aside, a worthy DVD of an important event.
on November 22, 2010
There is no way this is not an outstanding presentation. The last section with the 6 ladies is heart wrenching and pounding. For me....Stritch with her years of show-business savvy just nails "I'm Still Here". A WOW. Now on to something else. I'm not into performers not getting their royalties, but there is a sorta "pirate" that will not be shown here or released domestically of Sondheim's July 21, 2010 celebration at Royal Albert Hall in London. It is truly a desert island DVD. I've viewed it about 5 times and am amazed, not all performers we are familiar with, but all first class. Judi Dench nails "Send in the Clowns". Watching her go into character, then return, it is an acting lesson. For me, the highlight is a singer named Julian Ovendon, great to look at and a voice somewhat Gordon MacRaeish but purrrrfect for "Being Alive". It is definitive! Look him up on Utube. I'm not trying to send business to a company, but the only way I know of to get this DVD it is from The Berkshire Record Outlet...It's on the Encore label, This label can be chancy, but this looks and sounds just wonderful. Let me know how you respond to this treasure!....
The man is a genius...his songs stand the test of time and reflect his genius, and the cast assembled here to pay tribute to Stephen on his, then, 80th birthday, is such a collection of very talented people that the almost two-hour concert passes all too quickly. They say Stephen doesn't write love songs, but there is such an expression of love in so many of his songs, for he goes about it in a more circuitous way than another composer might. I pulled the concert up today from Amazon; what moved me is the, now, loss of Elaine Stritch. At the time of this concert she gives her all to Stephen's "I'm Still Here," from Follies, though she's more identified with "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch," this time sung by Patti Lupone. If you're a fan of Broadway, if you're a fan of Sondheim's, this recording of the concert will thrill you no end.
on November 19, 2010
The Video and Audio are excellent.
I had wondered if we really needed another Sondheim compilation, even on his birthday, especially since I was left rather cold by SONDHEIM on SONDHEIM. Well, we certainly needed this one. It is excellent. I imagine that you are a already a Sondheim Fan or you wouldn't be reading this, and so I'll get right to the point. Your favorite musical numbers will depend on which Sondheim show is your favorite and on which Broadway Personality you admire most.
Here are my favorites:
1. (Tie) "Losing My Mind" - Marin Mazzie. (Heartbreaking)
1. (Tie) "Too Many Mornings" - Audra McDonald and Nathan Gunn. (Exquisite)
3. "Could I Leave You?" - Donna Murphy. (Gut-wrenching)
4. "You're gonna love tomorrow/Love will see us through" - MattCavanaugh, Jenn Colella, Laura Osnes, Bobby Steggert. (Delightful)
5. "So Many People" - Laura Benanti (Nostalgic)
6. "We're gonna be alright" - Marin Mazzie & Jason Danieley (Witty)
7. "Johanna" - Nathan Gunn. (Majestic)
8. "Don't Laugh" - Victoria Clark" (Charming).
Buy this DVD and lose yourself in the imagination of Sondheim.
Even a fan such as I with no talent wishes him "Happy Birthday Steve".