Varese Sarabande's Sondheim at the Movies is a must-buy because, in addition to its enjoyable survey of Sondheim's film work, it includes four never-before-recorded songs, and if they're not major additions to the canon, they're more than just curiosities. From the unproduced movie Singing Out Loud, we've had a couple of recordings of "Water Under The Bridge" (Liza Minnelli, Debbie Gravitte), but the two songs here--"Dawn" and "Sand"--are quite fun and make one wish that this movie about the making of a movie musical had been made. From The Birdcage, there is one unused song (the lively, trashy "It Takes All Kinds") and one heard only briefly in the film but in full here.
Otherwise, the program has four from Dick Tracy, "The Glamorous Life" created for the A Little Night Music movie (but integrated into the stage song in the recent Royal National Theatre production), three orchestral suites from the haunting Stavisky background score, and the main theme from Reds. The program is completed by the four superb songs from the 1967 made-for-TV film Evening Primrose, previously recorded by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters for Patinkin's "Dress Casual" disc. Here, they're done by the excellent Liz Callaway and the oddly chosen Gary Beach, a fine character singer in a young leading man part.
The Los Angeles S.T.A.G.E. benefits for AIDS charities have been held annually for 13 years, and thus far three of them have been issued on disc: DRG's Harold Arlen set, MCA's Gershwin compilation, and Varese Sarabande's recently released 1997 Cole Porter salute. Now Varese has released "Sondheim: A Celebration", a double-CD set of the 1996 S.T.A.G.E. event, the third one that the series has devoted to the work of Stephen Sondheim. While the actual concert ran well over three hours, the CDs run 125 minutes; among the missing on disc are Joanna Gleason (who sang the Reds theme "Goodbye For Now"), Betty Garrett, Charlotte Rae, and Paul Sand. Among those preserved here, I especially enjoyed Sally Mayes in "Everybody Loves Louis"; David Cassidy choosing not to alter the lyric "I always get my man" in "Sooner or Later"; Joan Ryan's "There Won't Be Trumpets"; the Forever Plaid cast's amusing take on "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" ("What the heck is a lavabo?"); and, in a class by itself, Glynis Johns' still devastating "Send in the Clowns."
There are a number of other enjoyable tracks here that are rather visual in their appeal: Michael Jeter in full maid's drag for "Everybody Ought To Have A Maid"; David, Patrick, and Shaun Cassidy in the original Michael Bennett "You Could Drive A Person Crazy" choreography; the great Susan Johnson's "Who's That Woman?," during which she gradually and shockingly removed make-up and wig (although in ill heath, Johnson still sounds pretty good); Patrick Cassidy and Joely Fisher in a franker-than-usual "Barcelona"; an abridged "Someone In A Tree," with original Broadway Boy Gedde Watanabe now singing the Old Man; and Carole Cook, accompanied by two muscle men and one nerd for "Can That Boy Foxtrot?" (most of Cook's very politically incorrect monologue has been cut from the recording, although you will hear her making irreverent fun of the lyric signer).
Having seen several of these S.T.A.G.E. benefits, which heavily feature L.A.-based performers who mean more to those in attendance than to outside listeners, I can attest that they are more fun to witness than to hear on disc, and that the unevenness of the performances is more acceptable as part of the overall event. Even so, there is enough to enjoy here.
Twenty years after the American premiere of the hit London revue Side By Side By Sondheim, the original West End and Broadway trio of singers from that show--Julia McKenzie, David Kernan, and Millicent Martin--were reunited in the studio to record a new Sondheim program. Released by Carlton Sounds, it's also called "Sondheim: A Celebration" (both "Sondheim: A Celebrations" albums are, of course, not to be confused with "Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall").
With a couple of holdovers from Side By Side, the new set reflects the Sondheim that followed that show, with songs from Sweeney Todd, Into The Woods, and Dick Tracy. "Could I Leave You," sung in Side By Side by Kernan, is here performed by McKenzie, while Kernan's traditionally-female number here is "The Ladies Who Lunch." McKenzie reprises her Follies song "In Buddy's Eyes."
It's fun to hear the performers--great friends on stage and off--together again, and McKenzie and Kernan still sound good. Martin was a terrific musical star in such '50s/'60s West End shows as Expresso Bongo, The Crooked Mile, and Our Man Crichton. But she may have sung herself out in Side By Side, because her voice was never the same thereafter. While she was still okay in King of Hearts in 1978, she was in trouble during her '80s Broadway run in 42nd Street; by the time she replaced Diana Rigg in the London Follies in 1988 (playing opposite McKenzie), her voice was in utter disrepair, and she has since concentrated on straight plays. On the new disc, she sings very carefully (without really sustaining any notes), and gets by in "Liaisons" (which can be talk-sung), "Uptown, Downtown," and "By The Sea." But shouldn't the latter, as well as "Not While I'm Around" (which Kernan does), have gone to McKenzie, who triumphed in the Royal National Theatre Sweeney Todd but only preserved the role on radio?
The next Sondheim releases: The original London cast album of Passion (First Night, starring Michael Ball and Maria Friedman, and recorded live in concert some time after the production closed), and TER's studio cast of Anyone Can Whistle, with Maria Friedman, Julia McKenzie, and John Barrowman.
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