Next year, Stephen Sondheim’s turning 80, and in celebration, the Ravinia Festival is planning a gala concert, featuring Ravinia Sondheim interpreters Patti LuPone, Micheal Cerveris, Audra McDonald and George Hearn.
(Neveryoumind that the cheapest tickets for the event are just shy of a grand. Obscene. However, I’ll weasel my way in somehow. I got connections. They don’t call me “Ravinia Bob” for nothing.)
I’ve caught nearly every Sondheim concert with this superstar Sondheim repertory group over the last seven years, and thought I’d take a few moments to recall each performance:
Ok, this one I didn’t see as it was before I moved to Chicago. But, thankfully, the concert was recorded in San Francisco and preserved on DVD with most of the Ravinia cast intact. So, win! LuPone and Hearn starred as Lovett and Sweeney, and with LuPone giving a more “classic” interpretation of Lovett than her Tony-nominated turn in the John Doyle revisionment (I make up new words all the time) in 2005. I am sad that I missed Hollis Resnik as the Begger Woman, as I love her so, but oh well.
The success of this Sweeney concert, which began its life with the New York Philharmonic earlier that year, was the impetus to launch the Sondheim Ravinia Concert series.
A Little Night Music
This was my first time seeing this lush, lusty, lilting show. LuPone, as Desiree Armfeldt, looked a bit like a Sicilian Dolly Parton, what with her big blonde wig, super-tan skin and push-up bra. Hearn sang gloriously and had terrific chemistry with his former Sweeney co-star, and Hollis returned to play a wry, fragile Charlotte. Marc Kudisch delivered his patented blowhard baritone leading man schtick, ending “In Praise of Women” by kicking his pants in the air and catching them. Bittersweet performance from Zoe Caldwell as Madame Armfeldt, completely going up on her lyrics during “Liaisons,” but with nearly ideal line readings otherwise. However, the standout performance was Sara Ramírez as Petra, doing a KILLER “The Miller’s Son.” Oh, just look for yourself:
Side note: I caught Ramírez’s cabaret performance the following year at Ravinia’s Martin Theatre, and she recalled how absolutely nerve-wracking it was to perform that difficult song with LuPone — her idol — onstage watching her. (The song directly follows “Send in the Clowns,” LuPone’s big number in Night Music.) She said LuPone was so supportive of her during Night Music rehearsals, and then launched into a lively rendition of “Meadowlark” in her honor.
Sunday in the Park with George
This was my least favorite of the series, as it seemed the most under rehearsed, with director Lonny Price doing too many strange things — like having multiple “Dots” and “Georges” filling the Pavilion stage for no other reason than to fill the stage. Audra was glorious as Dot, Cerveris was in over his head and didn’t know his lines, and LuPone slummed it, playing Yvonne and Blair and showing us her fantastic rack, as she’s wont to do:
After the show, Kari, Gator and I flirted with Cerveris, with one eye looking over his shoulder waiting for LuPone to emerge. She never did.
PBS filmed Lonny Price’s staging of this complex Sondheim show when they recreated it at Lincoln Center a few summers ago. I’m sure if you’re reading this, you’ve seen it. LuPone gave a surprisingly sensitive and very well-sung Fosca. Cerveris didn’t win me over with his Georgio, but that’s not surprising since the character is a tool for the extent of the evening, and, as you can tell by now, I’m a little mystified by all the Cerveris love. Audra was a revelation as Clara, making her both alluring and deeply selfish. Gloriously sung, natch.
Anyone Can Whistle
This show was all about the ladies. LuPone was FIERCE as Cora Hoover Hooper, all decked out in pink, diamonds and an amazing red wig, and Audra nailed all her big songs and scenes. She also looked stunning in her red gown and bobbed wig during “Come Play Wiz Me.” Cerveris slimed it up in a Miami Vice jacket and horrid mullet wig. He forgot his words during “Everybody Says Don’t.”
While not technically part of the Sondheim series, as it was more of an excuse for LuPone to play Rose than to celebrate the show where he penned the lyrics, it was the highlight of my Ravinia experience. I’ve written about it extensively. To sumarize: I recall it as my most happiest summer weekend ever. To hear LuPone singing that score for the first time ever, to be privilege to that — in the front row, no less — and backed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with a rapt audience of fanatic Gypsy/Lupone/Sondheim fans and friends…
It was quite the experience. Lots of wine, too.