Sondheim on Sondheim opens tonight. To mark that event, let’s take a look at a few clips from the show:
Opening Montage: The show looks like what it is: a revue. The video screens look impressive, as if they offer the most interesting part of the production, which is fairly likely, I think. The costumes look like a bit of a mishmash. The band sounds small and tinny, so I’m not holding out much hope for the “brand new orchestrations” of the great songs that appear in this show. It certainly doesn’t make me want to rush out and buy a cast recording of the show, should one materialise from this production. Vanessa Williams looks stunning. Tom Wopat looks haggard. Leslie Kritzer and Norm Lewis look engaging. Barbara Cook looks like Barbara Cook.
“Losing My Mind”/”Not a Day Goes By”: Usually I’m a sucker for these contrapuntal duets, but this one doesn’t appeal much to me. It seems like a brilliant idea on paper: two great songs, thematically linked, delivered by two divas. Unfortunately, in practice, there are moments when it sounds simply awful. Williams sounds in better voice here than she did in Into the Woods, or is it that this more contemporary material suits her better? When Cook started singing, the number stopped working for me. I just don’t think this is a successful marriage of the two songs, even if someone who sounds like Seth Rudetksy (“Brava!”) does.
“Ah, but Underneath”: Williams really does sound better here than in Into the Woods and the material does suit her better. Now can somebody call in a better choreographer please? Dan Knechtges may have the strip right, but the rest of the musical staging in this song could look so much better.
“You Could Drive a Person Crazy”: Some will call it cute. Some of it is – the final moment works – but it’s a bit tacky too. The concept might have worked better in Putting it Together with a brilliant comedienne like Carol Burnett opposite George Hearn, but this brilliant song deserves better than how it is treated here.
“Send in the Clowns”: Barbara Cook sounds great in this clip. Vocally, the interpretation is wonderful. However, watching this makes you realise to an extent why her career had its most successful and sustained impact in concerts, on the cabaret circuit and on record. She just doesn’t seem to manage to translate it all into her face and body in a way that makes you feel like you’re watching a definitive acting experience. But while she may not be Judi Dench or Glynis Johns or even Angela Lansbury, she’s still one of the best at interpreting a number, even if that’s quite the same thing as acting it.
“Old Friends”: The ensemble sounds great. There is wonderful vocal energy here and what’s happening on the video screens is really moving. A good juxtaposition, I think.
“In Buddy’s Eyes”: This song is one of Barbara Cook’s calling cards. The voice has certainly aged, but its still agile, warm and emotive. And what she does, works. This is a great example of a performer singing a song in the way she needs to sing it now, at this time, in this moment. I’d even say that I might prefer her interpretation of this song now in comparison to her rendition on the so-called “complete” Follies recording.
“Sunday”: Another lovely performance from the ensemble. Vocally, it’s very powerful and while the new arrangement here is much more elaborate than in some of the other songs in this compilation, it’s doesn’t quite hit you in the gut in the way that the song’s orchestration in the show does. It’s a pity. as a part of this show, this song represents a truly awesome and iconic Sondheim moment.
“Epiphany”: It’s interesting to see how the video works here. The concept is brilliant and Sondheim is fascinating. However, it’s a disappointment that the number ends up being sung by a man in a generic suit – how wonderful it would be to segue into a reproduction of the original staging here. The number also seems too big for Wopat: he can’t seem to make it his own, but that challenge goes part and parcel with the revue format. After all, if the character is stripped away and you’re left only with yourself, what do you actually do with a song like this? The best you can, I guess. Still, it’s disappointing.