Broadway despatched within the A-team for “Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration,” a web-based salute to Stephen Sondheim that had theater lovers throughout America in full “You’re not crying, I’m crying” mode. The forged of dozens of performers consisted principally of the largest names in musical theater from the final 40 or so years, together with Patti LuPone, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Audra McDonald, together with stars of display in addition to stage like Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski and Mandy Patinkin, all utilizing residence as a launchpad to enter the Nice White Means’s most deeply emotional woods for a couple of minutes every.
Though nobody fairly supplied any “we will by no means see his likes once more” sentiments, it was misplaced on nobody taking part, and doubtless few watching, that Sondheim is the one most celebrated determine within the historical past of musical theater, and that he’s by no means gotten fairly as complete and mass-witnessed a tribute as this one, neither is he prone to once more. If we’ve got a pandemic to suppose for the epic intimacy that gave us Bernadette Peters, Laura Benanti, Sutton Foster, Melissa Errico, Ben Platt and Josh Groban belting out a number of the best songs ever written in loos or in entrance of sewn-together tablecloths to a captive viewers, it could go down in historical past as a weirdly blessed quirk of fine timing.
Not that this was the primary good Sondheim salute, or the 500th. Nathan Lane stepped in with some sarcasm (precise sarcasm) in regards to the prolific events the honoree has already obtained over the a long time. “He’s been so under-appreciated all these years,” mentioned Lane. “I can’t consider there’s by no means been a tribute like this, a musical tribute, to this unsung genius of the American theater. It’s about time, that’s all I can say. and never a second too quickly.” The actor humbled himself to self-ID as a collaborator with Sondheim as “e book author for ‘The Frogs’ — yeah, there I mentioned it, ‘The Frogs’ — you need to step exterior?” (That little-remembered present was one of many few Sondheim initiatives to not have any songs coated within the present.) Extra severely, Lane mentioned, “Right here’s slightly show-biz adage for this night: If in any respect attainable, attempt to work with a genius… There are offended geniuses and tortured, self-destructive geniuses. He’s a pleasant genius.” Retreating again to irony, Lane added, “I hope he enjoys this. You realize, he doesn’t like a fuss.”
However a playful and/or demanding genius at occasions, too. Jason Alexander additionally spoke in lieu of performing, providing an anecdote from when he was making his Broadway debut at age 20 within the present “Merrily We Roll Alongside.” Sondheim got here as much as him throughout rehearsals, he recalled, and requested if he had any vocal limitations the composer won’t concentrate on, as a result of he was pondering of writing him an extra track. Alexander allowed that his one space of vulnerability was not having an excellent ear for chromatics. Quickly after, Alexander mentioned, Sondheim delivered him a brand new track to open the second act that was “nothing however chromatics.”
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who recognized himself as “Steven No. 2,” whose adaptation of “West Aspect Story” will arrive in theaters post-pandemic, shared Sondheim’s lesser recognized cineaste aspect. “Outdoors of all the things you’ve created for musical theater, I rejoice you for one more one in all your extraordinary items, which is your photographic reminiscence, which is consistently up to date by your love for films,” the director mentioned. “I don’t know many different individuals who know the one film that Joan Fontaine and Paulette Goddard appeared in collectively, or while you cease me with strains like, ‘I don’t go to church; kneeling luggage my nylons’ (from “Ace within the Gap”). Or the story behind ‘The calla lilies are in bloom once more’ (spoken by Katharine Hepburn in “Stage Door”). I imply, I believed I used to be purported to be the movie man with all that archival information, however it seems you’re that man who is aware of extra about Hollywood’s cultural heritage than perhaps me and Marty Scorsese put collectively.”
Oddly, maybe, “West Aspect Story” was one in all only a handful of Sondheim reveals that not one of the performers touched — perhaps as a result of they had been underneath orders to have that firepower stored in reserve for the Spielberg remake, however extra doubtless as a result of it’s the uncommon present that he solely wrote lyrics and never music for. Essentially the most obscure slot of the evening, nonetheless, was dedicated to a track that he solely wrote lyrics for, as Linda Lavin revived a track that she launched within the off-Broadway “The Mad (Journal) Present” within the mid-’60s, “The Boy From…,” a spoof of “The Woman from Ipanema” Sondheim co-wrote underneath the pseudonym Esteban Rio Nido.
This vault nugget was not the climax of the two-hour-and-20-minutes present, for sure. The complete final half-hour or so appeared to include numbers that simply appeared like they is perhaps the finale, with Donna Murphy’s somber “Ship within the Clowns adopted by a raucous quartet model of “The Women Who Lunch” that had Streep, Baranski and McDonald mixing their very own cocktails or ingesting straight from the bottle on digicam. (“I did all of it fallacious — God!” McDowell may very well be heard laughing on the finish, although few would agree.)
Then it was Gyllenhaal — whose singing voice got here as a shock to many who didn’t see him revive “Sunday within the Park with George” 5 years in the past — bringing issues again right down to earth with duet accomplice Annaleigh Ashford on that present’s “Transfer On.” LuPone made her modest bookcase really feel like a correct proscenium as she delivered a favourite track from “Anybody Can Whistle,” adopted by Peters doing her personal dining-room activate a track from “Into the Woods” — not one in all her witchy ones, however “the track I’d hear once I’d be sitting within the wings,” “No One Is Alone,” which she mentioned she “thought is perhaps simply the right track proper now.”
After host Raul Esparza’s farewell speech and transient a cappella snippet of “Our Time” from “Merrily We Roll Alongside,” there was a short credit score sequence that listed 97 singers — about 60 greater than the viewers had already seen. How you can account for the massive discrepancy? That grew to become obvious with a post-credits rendition of “I’m Nonetheless Right here” that had dozens of principally lesser-known present Broadway performers getting in just a few strains, 4 or so at a time, Zoom-style. Throwing in a few child actors to sing strains related to Elaine Stritch had the impact of being each an excellent gag and a candy little bit of marching-into-the-future symbolism.
The 2 hours previous to this final run of climaxes was hardly with out different showstoppers operating into the double digits. Neil Patrick Harris had an early one, saying that he “thought for my track I’d sing one thing that reveals off my vocal vary” — which, for the understanding or clairvoyant, was a telltale signal that he was about to launch into the spoken-word piece from “Into the Woods” popularly often known as “the witch’s rap.” Judy Kuhn ventured exterior of Sondheim’s theater canon to present a uncommon revival to “What Can You Lose?” from the “Dick Tracy” film’s track rating.
Earlier than Peters did “No One Is Alone” a cappella on the climax of the present, Patinkin pulled off his personal baller transfer by singing “Lesson 8” from “Sunday within the Park with George” sans any instrumental accompaniment — outside, in an precise park. An empty park, too, perhaps by advantage of being chilly — the singer was in a winter coat and cap — though ideas of social distancing had been clearly intentional as he acquired to the closing strains: “George is alone… George would have appreciated to see folks out strolling on Sunday.”
“Into the Woods” appeared tied with “Sunday within the Park” as a favourite supply of fabric. It was Miranda who acquired to sing about there being “giants within the sky,” however unique “Woods” forged member Chip Zien acquired a little bit of topicality in when he launched his track from that present by saying, “There’s a degree in Act 2 of ‘Into the Woods’ the place there’s a large on the free attempting to destroy the dominion, and that’s taken on a number of meanings over time, however I feel it’s by no means been extra related than at this time.”
On the technical aspect, a lot of the performances, with just a few exceptions, had been exceptionally higher mic-ed and higher shot than lots of the contributions from residence we’ve gotten used to seeing in live-streams or all-star community reveals within the final month. Everybody sang to pre-recorded piano or trio tracks with earbuds or headphones (usually artfully obscured by lengthy hair). Typically you would actually see how these mini-gigs had been held collectively by the seams. Sutton Foster sang “There Gained’t Be Trumpets” from what appeared suspiciously like massive white tablecloths put collectively as a curtain — a suspicion confirmed when her daughter got here out to sing “Blissful Birthday” to Sondheim and charmingly revealed the bed room dresser behind the set design.
Benanti may need gained some type of award for turning beans into gold: She sang “I Keep in mind,” from the extra obscure “Night Primrose,” whereas seeming to be leaning in opposition to the sting of a tub — but when that sounds prefer it was taking residence mundanity too far, it was additionally most likely probably the most fantastically framed and lit efficiency of the present.
Definitely within the operating for probably the most highly effective, given the present second — the one apart from the honoree’s 90th birthday, that’s — was Brian Stokes Mitchell’s gorgeous rendition of “Flag Music,” a quantity minimize from “Assassins” however which Sondheim nonetheless thinks sufficient of to have requested him to sing it at a profit just a few years again. “I cherished this track as a result of if any individual requested Stephen Sondheim to jot down a patriotic track for our nation proper now with all the things that is occurring, I feel that is the track he would write, and it’s fairly superb that he already wrote it 30 years in the past,” he mentioned, earlier than belting out the shockingly earnest (by “Assassins” requirements, anyway) anthem of very conflicted love of nation: “For a minute you’re conscious / Of feeling proud / After which abruptly you’re staring / On the crowd / And also you’re pondering / ‘There’s no hyperlink I can see / They’re as completely different from me / As they presumably may very well be / You then see / The thought… / That it’s fixable tomorrow / We’ve an opportunity / There’s a alternative.”
The present lasted slightly greater than 2 hours and 22 minutes — intentionally or in any other case, near the common size of a Broadway present — after its precise kickoff time was delayed by 70 minutes attributable to technical difficulties. The primary try to start out the present made it clear that host Esparza was reside, even when everybody else on the present was pre-taped. He appeared in a field within the nook of the body whereas Stephen Schwartz performed a gap overture, till producers may very well be heard discussing the undesirable picture-in-picture impact over the music, at which level Esparza rapidly darted off-camera. He quickly got here again and delivered a number of minutes of opening commentary with no audio, presumably misplaced to the ages.
When the present lastly began over, a half-hour later — as sponsor BroadwayWorld.co and lots of the stars concerned desperately tweeted viewers to return again — Esparza forwent the opening monolog and didn’t seem till about midway by the webcast, although he finally put in a number of appearances, singing and in any other case. On the finish, he thanked “all of you who caught round with us tonight by gobs of technical issues” and sang an a cappella snippet of “Our Time,” from “Merrily We Sing Alongside”: “Really feel the way it quivers, on the brink … Every thing! / Offers you the shivers / Makes you suppose / There’s a lot stuff to sing!”
A lot to sing, truly, that the widespread thread of the feedback thread (as soon as everybody acquired of their jokes in regards to the early tech meltdown) was: “I don’t ever need this to finish,” whilst that final stretch of 11:00 numbers went previous the 11 p.m. level on the east coast. So long as this forged of dozens was “nonetheless right here,” the one pandemic anybody needed to fear about was loneliness… and rattling if Sondheim and Peters’ climactic ballad from “Into the Woods” didn’t have a repair for that.