Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sondheim's Birthday Concert by the New York Pops

The New York Pops celebrated Stephen Sondheim's birthday at Carnegie Hall last night.   I went because obviously I wouldn't miss a Sondheim concert in New York City (my fourth this year), but mostly because Kate Baldwin was finally on the bill.

Pops, led by Stephen Reineke, is usually high on schmaltz and corny jokes, without being overly ambitious.  But last night they kept it going with style and even a little thinking out of the box. 

Kate Baldwin, Aaron Lazar, Christiane Noll, Alexander Gemignani, Marylyn Maye and Mary- Mitchell Campbell on piano along with Essential Voices USA gave it their all in this final concert of this 80th birthday season of Sondheim.

The men looked handsome in their tuxedos (something Aaron wears very well and finally, or unfortunately, a show in which he didn't have to take his shirt off).  The ladies looked impossibly glamorous and did the diva thing by having first and second act gowns.  

Highlights of the evening were Kate's hauntingly beautiful I Remember from Evening Primrose, the 1966 made-for-television musical; Getting Married Today, from Company, on which Christiane nailed the nervous breakdown and lay on the floor while keeping it going; Agony, from Into the Woods, richly sung with high irony by Aaron and Alex; Marilyn Maye's extended version of I'm Still Here from Follies - the lyrics repeat and the arrangement moves into sort of Vegas show song; and finally A Weekend in the Country, from A Little Night Music - fabulous hearing Aaron reprise the role he recently left on Broadway and Kate as Charlotte again (we loved her so much in the 2008 Center Stage Production in Baltimore), plus ridiculously thrilling to actually hear French horns in this original Jonathan Tunick arrangement. 

The Pops orchestra is fine and of course, it's always wonderful to hear an orchestra gloriously play those Sondheim tunes.    We got to hear the overture to Merrily We Roll Along (arr. Roland Shaw) and the fabulous Sweeney Todd Symphonic Suite (arr. Don Sebesky).   Every time I hear the Merrily overture, my excitement is heightened (even with a couple of clunkers from the trumpets) - it's big fun as far as musical overtures go and always make me hope for a full revival.  

They encored with Old Friends from Merrily We Roll Along and managed to surprise us with bringing Stephen Sondheim himself on the stage.   He finished the piece himself with the final words "DAMN FEW," which managed to bring down the house for good. 

The full set list:
All - Comedy Tonight, from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Kate - Another Hundred People, from Company
Christiane & Alex - So Many People, from Saturday Night
Christiane - What More Do I Need? from Saturday Night
Kate - I Remember, from Evening Primrose
All - Remember? from A Little Night Music
Christiane - Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music
Christiane, Kate & Aaron - Getting Married Today, from Company
Aaron - Being Alive, from Company
All - A Weekend in the Country, from A Little Night Music
Alex - Not While I'm Around, from Sweeney Todd
Alex & Aaron - Agony, from Into the Woods
Alex - Buddy's Blues, from Follies
All - Our Time, from Merrily We Roll Along
Kate - Children Will Listen, from Into the Woods
Aaron & Christiane Move On, from Sunday in the Park with George
Marilyn - I'm Still Here, from Follies
All - Sunday from Sunday in the Park with George

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