Throughout his career, composer Stephen Sondheim has consistently changed the form and content of musical theatre. As his frequent collaborator Hal Prince observed, "We didn't take the audience where they wanted to go. We took the audience where we wanted to go." This 2 CD, 30 tracks retrospective allows you to hear exactly where Sondheim took the musical theatre-- and we also learn how he did it. Even if you own other Sondheim retrospectives, like the four disc "Sondheim: The Story So Far", or "Side By Side By Sondheim", you'll want to own this one. For the uninitiated, this is an excellent Sondheim starter. For Sondheim worshipers like myself-- well, can there ever be enough Sondheim? With Sondheim's music and shows, there is so much more depth ; always so much more to learn.
Sondheim's earliest success, "West Side Story", featuring death and rape via gang wars, pushed the envelope. His masterpiece of murderous mayhem "Sweeney Todd" ripped the envelope wide open. "Assassins", offering a disturbing history lesson about the dark side of the American dream not found in any school textbook, threw all "the rules" away.
From "West Side Story" to "Sweeney Todd" to "Assassins", it's all here and much more. You'll hear Ethel Merman, as Mama Rose (the "stage mother from Hell") in "Gypsy" rip through "Everything's Coming Up Roses". You'll feel the urban angst as the characters in "Company" struggle with making personal connections in our increasingly depersonalized society. The selections from "Company" include Elaine Stritch's iconic, astringent performance of "Ladies Who Lunch", and Dean Jones' heartbreaking original performance of "Being Alive".
And it is a revelation to hear once again, Glynis John's rueful and delicate original recording of "Send In The Clowns" from "A Little Night Music", Sondheim's romantic musical for adults.
Also included are gems from shows like "Anyone Can Whistle", "Pacific Overtures", and "Merrily We Roll Along"; shows that, for various reasons, are artistically rewarding but were not critical or commercial successes; as well as songs from Sondheim's forays into TV ("Evening Primrose") and film ("Dick Tracy").
Critical and commercial success has never been what Sondheim is going for. Sondheim does NOT write "escapist musicals." If "escapist Broadway" is your bag, go to Jerry Herman's "Hello Dolly!" or "Mame." Sondheim's only "musical comedy" is "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum." I suppose "Into The Woods" could be considered more "accessible to general audiences." But even in "The Woods", fairy tale characters struggle with dark issues and difficult lessons to learn. Sondheim's musicals show us, and make us feel, the angst, the confusions, the mixed up complexities, and, YES, the rewards in truly Being Alive. This CD set provides ample proof that Sondheim is a Genius; Yes, he is A GOD of musical theatre.