Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Don Roy King
Starring Carol Burnett, George Hearn, Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman, Bronson Pinchot
- Cast bios
- Interview with Burnett
- Burnett onstage blooper
My Advice: Rent It.
Apparently created in order to do a showcase of Sondheim's songs from his umpteen musicals, this show was created and originally performed in London back in 1992, with Diana Rigg among its cast. It then traversed the ocean in 1993 with a run in New York, featuring Julie Andrews and Christopher Durang. This recent production of the show featured Carol Burnett's return to Broadway. The show itself consists of a paper-thin "dramatic framework" (as Sondheim.com calls it) created specifically to string the songs together chosen to make up the program. So thin is it that if you're not careful, you'll miss it. Which is no big loss, considering you're there for the songs anyway.
And that's the thing about Sondheim--his songs are so lyrically and musically both rich and challenging--as long as you've got the voices and instrumentation necessary, you can't go wrong. And hey, good news--the cast that's pulling this off is up to the challenge. First of all, there's the aforementioned Burnett, who's in tremendous form and equal voice. George Hearn (most recently seen in the concert version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) is there in elder musical statesman mode, in a role that earned him a Tony nod, apparently. Also among the cast are two faces that I did not recognize, Barrowman (better known for TV) and Henshall (just a stage goddess I've evidently missed). Barrowman is the perfect leading guy and Henshall can not only dance but can sing up a freaking storm--sometimes with her teeth together, which is at times unnerving. Rounding out the cast is Bronson Pinchot (yes, he of Perfect Strangers fame), which I found surprising. He apparently has a great deal of theatre under his belt, but this is first musical. That was a surprise, considering how well he handled himself vocally.
All the numbers are excellent, with the possible exception of "Hello Little Girl" (from Into the Woods): it's pairing of Henshall with Hearn is just a mismatch. Hearn, God love him, is about as lascivious as a bag of potato chips. Pinchot would have made a much better choice to voice this interp of the Big Bad Wolf. But that's one song out of...well, umpteen. And, well, the only drawback to a revue of this nature is that there's always going to be some favorites that you miss hearing. Me, I would have loved to have heard Burnett and Hearn doing "A Little Priest" (from Todd) or Henshall belting out "Last Midnight" (from Woods). But hey, I got introduced to some new tunes, like "Bang!" (curiously absent from our library's soundtrack of Little Night Music).
The disc itself is good as well, featuring an interesting interview with Burnett. Unforunately, it has its problems. First, the song/chapter list isn't numbered, so if you're trying to go back and find a song that you weren't familiar with, you're stuck trying to figure out its title. And there are four screens worth of songs, so it can be a chore if you haven't watched the show enough to know what order songs come in. A jewel on the disc is an "onstage blooper" with Burnett--only problem is, it's located on the menu after the interview, where in Burnett explains the whole thing. Going into the blooper knowing what's going to happen makes the thing about half as funny as it would have been otherwise-- although it's still pretty damn hilarious.
Despite the couple of grievances, the content carries the day on this thing. Fans of the theatre should run out and grab it immediately, and non-fans of the theatre are uncultured barbarians and don't really matter much anyway. Recommended.
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