At City Center's Sondheim Birthday Gala, hostess Mia Farrow said, "A Sondheim birthday celebration is a celebration for all of us." Yes it is. Even when you've just run from work in pouring rain without proper footwear, you're sitting far back in the cave of the rear mezzanine with some very grumpy people and you've got to go back to work. Any Sondheim, but especially a Sondheim Celebration, is a sparkling respite from all that is out tough and miserable in the world.
Actors from original and revival productions of Stephen Sondheim's work gathered to reprise their roles - and in some cases their current role. The most thrilling moments for me were: Donna Murphy, from the original production of Passion, singing Fosca's Letter and Loving you from Passion, Joanna Gleason, from the original production of Into the Woods, singing Moments in the Woods, Maria Friedman, from the original London production of Sunday in the Park with George, singing Children and Art, Jim Walton, from the original production of Merrily We Roll Along, singing Our Time. Maria Friedman, who has been in a number of Sondheim shows in the West End and named him as the Godfather to her son, was a surprise. She beat the volcanic cloud to get here and thank goodness - the last few bars of her Broadway Baby are worth the money.
It was exciting to hear the audience so enthusiastic for various artists, demanding encore bows from Raul Esparza, Len Cariou, Michael Cerveris, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Nathan Lane. When Angela Lansbury, looking resplendit in silver satin, took the stage, the audience jumped to its feet in thunderous ovation before she had even sung a note and it may have been her best Liaisons yet.
I borrowed the evening's set list from Martin at Talkin'Broadway:
FOLLIES - Overture
ROAD SHOW “Get Out / Go” -- Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemingnani
PASSION: “I Wish I Could Forget You” – Donna Murphy
ASSASSINS: “Gun Song” – Debra Monk
INTO THE WOODS: “Moments in the Wood” – Joanna Gleason
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE: “Children and Art” – Maria Friedman
MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG: Overture
SWEENEY TODD: “Pretty Women” – Michael Cerveris, Mark Jacoby and Len Cariou
PACIFIC OVERTURES: “Someone in a Tree” – B. D. Wong, Claybourne Elder, Alexander Gemignani and Mark Jacoby
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC: “You Must Meet My Wife” – Alexander Hanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Len Cariou
COMPANY: “Being Alive” – Raúl Esparza (Doyle: “COMPANY opened 40 years ago tonight.”)
ANYONE CAN WHISTLE: “Anyone Can Whistle” – Sutton Foster
A FUNNY THING…, THE FROGS, and other shows: “Invocation and Instruction to the Audience,” “Love is in the Air,” and bits of “Comedy Tonight,” “The Ladies Who Lunch,” “I’m Still Here” – Nathan Lane (coming on fumbling, carrying a tuba and a cello and as he finishes his song he tips John Doyle quite a few green backs.)
Shelia Hancock greetings read
Julia McKenzie greetings read
BOUNCE, ROAD SHOW: “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened” -- Claybourne Elder, Alexander Gemignani and Michele Pawk
Milton Babbitt greetings read
Judi Dench greetings read
PASSION: “Loving You” – Donna Murphy
INTO THE WOODS: “ No One Is Alone” – Kim Crosby, Chip Zien, Danielle Ferland and Ben Wright
FOLLIES: “Broadway Baby” – Maria Friedman
Glynis Johns greetings read, about SJS: “He’s such a lovely young man.” –
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC: “Send in the Clowns” -- Catherine Zeta-Jones
recorded voice of Julie Andrews w/ greetings and she sings (!!!) a bit of “Not a Day Goes By.” -
Doyle reads some statistics on SJS awards: 61 Tony Awards, 5 Best Musicals, 8 Best Actress awards and many others mentioned -
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC: “Liaisons” – Angela Lansbury
MERRILY WE RROLL ALONG: “Our Time” – Jim Walton, Raúl Esparza and Maria Friedman
*Mia Farrow brings on Stephen Sondheim to a sustained ovation.*
Well, I guess that it's for this season's Sondheim Birthday Celebrations...at least in New York. The NSO Pops is presenting three nights at the Kennedy Center May 6-8th, Ravinia takes its turn on July 31st . That same night, across the pond, BBC Proms celebrates and will broadcast it both on the radio and the tele.
So, thank you Mr. Sondheim for turning eighty and giving a celebration to all of us.