This & That about Sondheim – March 2024

March 22 would have been Sondheim’s 94th birthday. Before the end of March, there’s a Broadway Birthday: Sondheim, Lloyd Webber and Friends, happening in California at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa on March 28. It’s marking the strange coincidence that Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber shared the same birthday. Coming together for this one-night-only event will be Tony winner Betty Buckley and a bevy of other Broadway stars —Matthew Morrison, Liz Callaway, Alex Joseph Grayson, Aaron Lazar and Kerry O’Malley.  – who just recently spread holiday cheer in our Cabaret Series with the Broadway Hollywood Holiday Songbook!

If you can’t catch the California event, why not pick up several fine recordings recently released by some top-notch performers? For instance, Liz Callaway (who was in the original cast of Merrily We Roll Along), recently released To Steve With Love: Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim, a live recording of her 2022 cabaret performance at 54 Below in New York City. It features 16 numbers — including “Broadway Baby,” “The Miller’s Son,” “What More Do I Need?” and “I Remember”/“Take Me to the World” from Evening Primrose —interspersed with tracks with her talking about intersections with Sondheim. • Or check out Melissa Errico’s Sondheim in the City. It’s a selection of his songs telling New York stories. In an interview in Forbes, Tony Award nominee Errico calls the recording, “my most swinging, big band kind of album, with horns and strings and great jazz drumming.” (If you’d like to see her live, she’ll be at 54 Below from May 7 to 9.) The recording is Errico’s second collection of his songs, Sondheim Sublime, from 2018, which the Wall Street Journal called “the best Sondheim album ever recorded.” It offers “The Miller’s Son,” “With So Little to Be Sure Of,” “Marry Me a Little,” “Isn’t He Something?,” “Goodbye for Now,” and “Losing My Mind,” among others. • One more great choice is Jeff Harnar’s I Know Things Now: My Life in Sondheim’s Words, released in 2022. The New York Times’ Stephen Holden described the recording by this great cabaret singer as “a complicated journey from innocence and naïveté to the hard lessons of adulthood” and praised the recording’s “jazz-flavored orchestrations.”

CAST RECORDING NEWS: Maria Friedman’s record-breaking, ebullient revival of Merrily We Roll Along featuring Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsay Mendez released the CD of its cast recording in January. It was produced by Sony Masterworks Broadway, the same recording company that produced the cast recording of the show’s original 16-performance production in 1981. The revival, which opened on October 10, 2023, at the Hudson Theatre, will end its run on July 7, 2025. It’s been extended twice, but this appears to be the final date it will be presented. The revival, by the way, recouped its $12 million capitalization this month. • The cast recording of Tommy Kail’s 2023 revival of Sweeney Todd was warmly recommended by Jesse Green in his New York Times roundup of cast albums. He suggested that Josh Groban’s performance makes this recording stand out in the context of previous recordings of Sondheim’s masterpiece. “Groban’s slight stiffness and somewhat meek interpretation, which worked against the role’s terror in the huge stage production,” Green pointed out, “are utterly absent on the album, turning numbers like Sweeney’s ‘Epiphany’ into murderous arias as big as any in opera.” Capturing Groban’s performance is a plus, as well as his partner in crime, the delightful Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs. Lovett. [Photo: (L -R) Reg Rogers, Katie Rose Clarke, Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe & Lindsay Mendez in Merrily We Roll Along – Photo by Matthew Murphy)

GLYNIS JOHNS, who originated the role of charming Desirée Armfeldt in the original production of Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s A Little Night Music, passed away in January at the age of 100. She was the first to sing “Send in the Clowns,” a number Sondheim wrote overnight with her breathy voice in mind. A decade before Night Music she played Mrs. Banks, the sunny suffragette and mother of two rambunctious children in the Disney rendition of Mary Poppins. Johns took ill just five days before Night Music opened in February 1973 and was briefly hospitalized. When she learned that actress Tammy Grimes might replace her, she recovered quickly. “Nobody else is going to sing my songs!” she announced. For her performance, Johns wone the 1973 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. In 1991 she played Madame Armfeldt in a production of Night Music at the Ahmanson Center in Los Angeles.

Last September, I was honored to do a book signing for the paperback edition of The Stephen Sondheim Encyclopedia at New York City’s Drama Book Shop. My conversation with David Rigano was recorded for the bookstore’s podcast Drama Book Show, which debuted in January, so you can hear what I had to say. (My interview begins at 7:00 minutes; it’s about 41 minutes long.) I hope you enjoy listening.

PARTING SHOT: Forbidden Broadway, Gerard Alessandrini’s enduring parodies that have skewered Broadway shows for more than four decades is coming back, and in fact, the raucous off-Broadway show, will actually be at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre starting with previews on July 29 and officially opening on August 15. (Closing is set for November 1, 2024.) This edition Forbidden Broadway on Broadway: Merrily We Stole a Song, promises parodies of numbers from recent revivals of  Company, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, Merrily We Roll Along and perhaps even Here We Are. The production will also offer spoofs on contemporary and upcoming Broadway musicals and plays such as The Notebook, Water for Elephants and The Great Gatsby. Alessandrini’s cast will be three Forbidden Broadway regulars: Michael West, Jenny Lee Stern and Chris Collins-Pisano was well as newcomer Dayna Jarae Dantzler. Also joining them will be a true Forbidden Broadway veteran since 1991, comedian Christine Pedi, who will take on a trio of stars — Merman, Stritch and Lansbury. Forbidden Broadway debuted in 1982 at New York’s Palsson’s Supper Club. Since then it has played in more than 200 cities across the U.S. and around the world. The show received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre and several Drama Desk awards. [Photo by Alastair Muir]

If you have comments or questions about Sondheim, drop me an email at pender.rick@gmail.com.

Finally, here’s something that made me smile. I hope it does the same for you!

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