My (somewhat grumpy) thoughts on ‘Sondheim! The Birthday Concert’

Note: I had a glass (or three) of wine last night and watched the “Sondheim! The Birthday Concert” dvd from start to finish, allowing myself one documented thought per performance. A word of warning: I guess I was a touch grumpy. And it might help to have seen the DVD to know what I’m referring to in some areas. So, I guess what I’m saying is … read at your own risk?

So, let’s get started!

– Yay, Paul Gemignani!

– Oh, that clever and uptight Niles Crane! Loving this bright, showy overture — same one they used for that infamous Ravinia concert this summer.

– Surprise star entrances! Watch as they glide on the stage, meet in pairs, and collect a flute of champagne before floating back off to the wings! Oh! Did LuPone just say “no!” to the champagne? And how cruel, Mr. Lonny Price, staging it so Elaine Stritch, a long-time recovering alcoholic, has to walk by the champagne tray. A pro, she makes it into a bit. Good girl.

– Karen Olivio certainly is having problems with the dancing of “America.” Is this during her ankle troubles?

– Alex Gemignani’s “Something’s Coming” is quite solid. And when did he get attractive?

(This is when the grumpy starts in…)

– Is it just me, or are Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley a mismatched couple? And why does Mazzie enter the stage with her tongue sticking out all the time? She did that in her first entrance at the top of the show. Bizarre.

– Big yawn at Victoria Clark’s mugging. She’s doing her best to sell a song that’s kind of a one-note joke.

– That Nathan Gunn certainly can sing, and has amazing hair, but he’s like dead wood onstage. Very (very) attractive dead wood, but dead wood nonetheless.

– Cute performance of a favorite Follies number of mine, “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow” / “Love Will See Us Through.” No complaints.

– Oh, Audra. It must be hard to emote next to a head of perfect hair (aka Gunn, again). Kudos for trying.

– More Follies? Oh, okay. It’s John McMartin, after all, and his performance makes me wish more than ever that I could’ve seen the original production of Follies.

– Chip Zien has not changed one bit. Joanna Gleason’s face, on the other hand, has morphed into a different creature altogether. However, they’re still adorable together performing “It Takes Two.”

– Jim Walton accompanying himself in “Growing Up” is just pure class. Love this performance. Love him.

– Oh, god. Patinkin is more annoying and mannered here than I’ve ever seen him before.

– Is it just me, or are Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin a mismatched couple? Peters looks like a goddess, per usual. And would it kill you to wear a suit, Mr. Pantinkin?

– Cerveris and Hearn — one is “Sweeney: Light,” the other is “Sweeney: Full Bodied.” Guess which one is which?

– A threesome “Little Priest,” eh? Cute idea. Liked it more at Ravinia. LuPone needs to pick a key. And what IS she wearing? Looks like she ransacked Blanche Devereaux’s closet. Is it a dress? A pantsuit? What?

– Why the dancing? Where’s that wine bottle?

– Laura Benanti is positively glowing. A simple performance of a simple song (“So Many People”). But why can’t she get the orchestra to back her up?

– David Hyde Pierce – I love you. You’re adorable. But don’t sing high notes, k?

– Here come the ladies! My: that’s a lot of red.

– While this isn’t my first time seeing LuPone do “The Ladies Who Lunch” with a full orchestra, it is the first time seeing her perform it in such a bright red dress. Has the bossa nova ever sounded so belty? Very happy her performance of this number has been (legitimately) documented. Maybe it’s just me, but her hair’s looking very “wiggy” these days.

– I’m sorry to say, but Mazzie (whom I love) is the “one of these things is not like the other” entry. Still, a solid, if oversung, “Losing My Mind.”

– Audra (and Audra’s amazing arms) are singing this song (“The Glamorous Life”)? Again? She’s great at it, but come ON. She’s sung it at every concert I’ve attended of hers for the past five years.

– Meanwhile, a mascara-streaked LuPone observes her contemporaries from the sidelines:

– I’ve never been a fan of Donna Murphy’s, but she absolutely nails “Could I Leave You?”

– Bernadette can barely get through “Not a Day Goes By” she’s emoting so hard. No one sings it better, but we’ve heard her performance of this song before, haven’t we? Next!

– Stritch is still here, dammit, showin’ you young’ins how it’s done. I love watching the ladies watch her.

– Not the most original finale for a Sondheim concert (“Sunday”), but seeing a verklempt Sondheim was worth it. And that’s a shit-load of singers. Oh, hey! Is that Nancy Opel?

– A teary-eyed Sondheim takes a bow, and I want to rush up there and give him a hug. Despite my cantankerous mood, this was a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.

And there you go! Happy birthday, Sondheim!

15 thoughts on “My (somewhat grumpy) thoughts on ‘Sondheim! The Birthday Concert’

  1. I’ll have you know I’m referencing this entry as I watch the concert – and you’re pretty right on every point. Bernadette is amazing. And sweet Jesus, I can’t stand Mandy Patinkin.

  2. Thoughts in no particular order:

    I had the same thought on Marin. And her vowels are weird when she belts. She’s good, but not at the level of the other ladies. And Audra needs to get new rep. Can’t stop talkin’ about him and Glamorous Life need a rest. I worship you, but please learn a new song or two. Nathan Gunn was hot as always, but soooo boring. Ugh. I kind of wish Audra would have sung Benanti’s song. Laura sang it fine, but Audra would have been amazing on it. I loved Patti’s Ladies Who Lunch. So sassy. I also love that Sondheim hugged Patti and Bernadette at the same time at the end of the show. It was probably in their contracts that it woudl go down that way. I like “Priest” more at Ravinia too. It was a little low energy and the line delivery was a little slow or something. Bernadette looked gorgeous. And poor Victoria Clark. I forgot about her. Why didn’t they give her something else to sing. Overall, I loved the show. Sondheim is, as always, amazing.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Adam! Seems like we were in agreement on most of it. Audra sang “So Many People” in one of her concerts (at the Donmar, I think? Its on DVD, and she did a lovely job, natch.)

  3. Just got to watch the DVD the other day myself. Fun commentary! I was less grumpy myself as I watched (although I was also drink-less). Just some of my thoughts on the concert, in no particular order: I thought Victoria Clark was adorable on a less than stellar song. Nathan Gunn has a great voice but his looks don’t make me swoon. Beyond that, he is boring to watch. Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason were delightful. A lot more head voice on Finishing The Hat – I kept hearing the recording in my head so I found it jarring. But I loved Move On. Bernadette does look like a goddess! I liked the entrances by the performers – I found it fun and totally loved Elaine’s bit. I can’t stop watching the “red dress” section of the show. All the ladies looked wonderful. Patti’s delivery was great and definitely her own. I’m a Marin fan and didn’t find the song oversung. I actually liked the power in her singing while still feeling the emotional devastation. I haven’t heard Audra sing The Glamorous Life many times, so my only reaction was – Awesome! Donna – knocked it out of the park. Bernadette – last time I heard her sing this was watching the Sondheim Celebration at Carnegie Hall on DVD (probably a few years ago). This performance had more back phrasing, but was still emotive and beautifully sung. What can be said about Elaine? Awesome job’

  4. I thought this was actually better the “The Sondheim Celebration” even though that one had the only time the trio of current Legendary Broadway Ladies shared a stage (LuPone, Buckley, and Peter) and they all turned in performances that have never been equaled. I’m planning on reviewing this for my blog but I thought LuPone’s hair looked like a wig (also very much like my mothers and couldn’t they have found a dress that fit her. I would have liked Mazzie to sing a solo version of “Happiness,” Audra maybe could have done “The Millers Son” or “There Won’t be Trumpets,” and Bernadette could have done “Send in the Clowns or as a real treat “Isn’t He Something” from “Bounce/Road Show” since she did the workshop. She’s sang “Not a Day Goes By” to devastating perfection at the original concert, Kennedy Center, and her own PBS special and this felt like it was an off night for her.

  5. Also isn’t Laura Benanti a goddess. I wonder if Sutton Foster hates her. I know Sutton has the name but she’s always showing you how hard she’s working for you and then Laura comes out and delivers truthful magic each time. I still can’t believe she wasn’t even considered for Gypsy Rose Lee in the Bernadette “Gypsy.” Also I keep thinking she would make a perfect Amalia Balash in “She Loves Me,” or when she’s slightly older Rosabella in “The Most Happy Fella.” Also I don’t get the appeal of Victoria Clark except where she played prim and proper in Piazza which for this song called for a comedian. I really wish someone would have given Carolee Carmello a chance to knock this out of the park.

  6. My grumpy question: why the heck isn’t Sondheim sitting in the front row? It’s his birthday. Who sat him four rows back?!?

    1. Thanks for reading! I’m guessing because front row requires you to bend your head back to look up at the action. 4th row center aisle is generally considered the best seat in the house.

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