What could be more wonderful than watching five decades of your life played out by some of the most talented people ever to walk the planet? And just how do you fit five decades of genius into a two-plus-hour show? Well, you can't hit everything (or we would have been there until Sondheim turned 85), but you can come pretty darn close.
Let's take a look-see at some of the highlights, shall we?
Musical director Paul Gemignani took to the podium (in his signature tinted glasses) and with one, swift movement of his baton, launched the New York Philharmonic into a stirring rendition of the overture to Sweeney Todd. But was Sweeney really the most festive foot to start on for the Master's birthday? Host David Hyde Pierce thought not. Tapping Gemignani on the shoulder, the said "Um, Paul, this is a birthday party. No death, please."
Hyde Pierce then sent us off on a musical time trip, with original stars of Sondheim's shows like John McMartin (the original Benjamin Stone in Follies), Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason (the original Baker and his Wife from Into the Woods) mixing it up with new stars like Karen Olivo, Bobby Steggert and Laura Osnes.
In another old-meets-new moment: George Hearn (in the original production of Sweeney Todd in 1980) entered the hall stage left. Michael Cerveris (the latest Broadway Todd) stage right. Patti LuPone (the latest Mrs. Lovett) from stage center. LuPone takes an awkward look at both of them, and scurries off stage. Hearn and Cerveris are left to duke it out for the prize of Top Todd! Cerveris pulls out a stool and motions to Hearn to sit. "You first," he says. To which Hearn replies, "Oh, I know." "Please, after you," Cerveris motions again to the chair. "Yes, you were," Hearn exclaims. They decide to sing and make-up over "Pretty Women." LuPone then sees it's safe to return and joins the men for "A Little Priest."
In another blast-from-the-past moment, Sunday in the Park with George's original George, Mandy Patinkin, after completing a beautiful rendition of "Finishing the Hat," was joined by his former co-star Bernadette Peters for "Move On." It would be the first, but not the last, time I cried like a baby.
In Act Two — donned in all red courtesy of Diane Von Furstenburg — Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone, Donna Murphy, Marin Mazzie and Elaine Stritch were ushered out on stage by host Hyde Pierce singing "Beautiful Girls," from Follies. And then the diva show began!
LuPone kicked it off with "Ladies Who Lunch" from Company, followed by Mazzie with "Losing My Mind" from Follies, then McDonald with "The Glamorous Life," from A Little Night Music, and Murphy with "Could I Leave You?" from Follies. Then, Sondheim muse Bernadette Peters sauntered up to the mic for "Not a Day Goes By," from Merrily We Roll Along. (No matter how often I hear her sing this, it still gets me all verklempt.) Elaine Stritch topped it all off with another Follies standard, "I'm Still Here" (and at 85, she proved she's still here, there and everywhere). Her "30 Rock" co-stars Alec Baldwin and Tiny Fey agreed, jumping to their feet when Stritch belted out her last note.
The only thing that left me scratching my head, was the absence of anything from Gypsy! And with two Mama Roses there to boot! But alas, I'll do as Peters said to Patinkin and "move on."
Just in case anyone in that room questioned the heat of Sondheim's still-bustling career, dozens of cast members from Sondheim's three 2010 Broadway productions (West Side Story, A Little Night Music and the imminent Sondheim on Sondheim) rushed the aisles and balconies for the finale, singing "Sunday" from Sunday in the Park with George. It brought everyone to tears, including the man-of-the-hour.
It proved, that just like Stritch, Sondheim is still, very much, here.
[caption id="attachment_1852" align="alignleft" width="614" caption="Sondheim with the company of "Sondheim: The Birthday Concert" courtesy of New York Philharmonic, Richard Termine"][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1855" align="alignleft" width="614" caption="Host David Hyde Pierce (center) with (left to right) Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Bernadette Peters, Elaine Stritch, Donna Murphy and Marin Mazzie at "Sondheim: The Birthday Concert" courtesy of New York Philharmonic, Richard Termine"][/caption]