The first complete recording of Stephen Sondheim's musical-theatre work since the 1979 original Broadway cast recording, and the first recording of the work by a symphony orchestra, captures the May 2000 New York Philharmonic concert performances in honor of Mr. Sondheim's 70th birthday, starring Patti LuPone, George Hearn and Audra McDonald. Directed by Tony Award winner Lonnie Price, the cast also includes John Aler, Davis Gaines, Neil Patrick Harris, Heidi Grant Murphy, Paul Plishka, Stanford Olsen and the New York Choral Artists.
For many, Sweeney Todd
is Stephen Sondheim
's masterpiece, a Grand Guignol musical-opera with an epic sweep. The original 1979 cast recording
(starring Len Cariou, Angela Lansbury, and Victor Garber) remains definitive, but this version, assembled for three performances with the New York Philharmonic in May 2000, gives it a serious run for its money. Indeed, this live recording boasts Patti LuPone, George Hearn, Davis Gaines, Audra McDonald, and Heidi Grant Murphy; has been nominated for the 2002 Best Musical Show Album Grammy; and, last but not least, features that world-class orchestra. LuPone's English accent goes in and out, especially in the spoken passages, but no matter; she sings superbly. Her comic timing is impeccable, and her tendency to go over the top actually works in her favor in a show in which humor is of the gallows kind and blood flows freely. As for the Philharmonic, it'll make you even more bitter next time you're at a Broadway show where they try to cut corners by using a pared-down ensemble: The music's power could flatten trees. --Elisabeth Vincentelli