Review: Sondheim on Sondheim

Originally reviewed for

My husband put it very accurately: Sondheim on Sondheim is like a PBS American Masters documentary on Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim — minus interviews with anybody but the man himself, or any kind of narration. And with his songs song by some really wonderful musical theatre talents. Which, more or less, works for me.

The core of the show is a series of interviews, some new some from deep in the archives, with Sondheim, ingeniously splayed over dozens of plasma screens by video designer Peter Flaherty. These do indeed offer a few engrossing insights into the psyche and artistic process of musical theatre’s most acclaimed songwriter.

I was most pleased to see Sondheim’s comic, even manic, side — not what you think of when contemplating this famously shy and laconic man. He occasionally gets a slightly crazy energy in his eyes, mostly when he’s offering his sharpest insights into the actual mechanics of writing a really good lyric. Who knew he could be this much fun!

As for the live performances, individually they’re mostly marvelous, but together add up to less than the sum of their parts (the usually nimble director James Lapine has for some reason staged them somewhat lazily). I’m not surprised that Leslie Kritzer and Euan Morton have the lion’s share of great moments — you’d have to be nuts to deny that these two are among the very best young musical theatre performers anywhere.

The most moving moment for me: Sondheim muses on the importance of teaching, on his teachers, and those he’s taught. Then, immediately, Barbara Cook launches into a soaring (one might even say definitive) version of “Send in the Clowns”— as Leslie and Euan and the rest of the cast look on. That’s a hell of a high level of artistic education, the best of one generation showing the best of a later generation how it’s done. That made this son of two teachers kvell.

For tickets, click here.

One thought on “Review: Sondheim on Sondheim

  1. I am a huge Sondheim fan and I found that this musical is just another reinforcement of how powerful Sondheim’s work is. He has changed the face of musical theatre and still continues to touch his audiences all over the world. If you love discussing his work and his shows you there are so many ways to become interactive.

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