One of the most significant artistic events in recent years—the Sondheim Celebration, which made the Kennedy Center a place of theatrical pilgrimage this past summer—was distilled into a 2 1/2-hour concert at New York City's Avery Fisher Hall Oct. 21.
The one-night-only event featured numbers and cast members from the six Sondheim shows presented in Washington: Sunday in the Park with George, Passion, Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music and Company. Among the performers singing in the New York concert, repeating their DC duties, were Christine Baranski, Blair Brown, Barbara Cook, Melissa Errico, Judy Kuhn, Rebecca Luker, Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner.
Michael M. Kaiser, the ambitious new president of the Kennedy Center, began the evening with a few words, coyly stating "You may have heard we did a little Sondheim in Washington this summer." The unprecedented survey of the composer's work enlisted the services of four directors and several orchestrators and conductors, and attracted theatregoers from Washington, New York and across the nation. Though none of the productions, which were largely well-reviewed, will transfer to Broadway, this Manhattan retrospective concert was put together to give Gothamites a taste of the goings-on in the country's capital.
Christine Baranski—who, as Mrs. Lovett, was one of the biggest casting coups for the Sondheim festival—launched the 33-song line-up with her rendition of "Worst Pies in London." John Dossett, Danny Gurwin and Sarah Uriarte Berry followed with three intertwined numbers from Night Music: "Now," "Later" and "Soon." Night Music was the most heavily represented of the musicals. All told, nine songs from the score were featured, including the ensemble number "A Weekend in the Country," which began the second half of the concert, and the show's most famous tune, "Send in the Clowns," sung by Blair Brown.
The preponderance of Night Music, compounded by the presence of five selections from 1994's somber Passion, lent the evening an contemplative, almost dour tone, with many of the selections focused on the verities and disappointments of love and marriage. Providing some of few brighter moments were the manic "Franklin Shepherd, Inc.," from Merrily We Roll Along, performed by Raúl Esparza; the perky "By the Sea" from Sweeney Todd, sung by Baranski; "Getting Married Today" from Company, well annunciated by Alice Ripley; and "Sunday in the Park with George" with Esparza and Melissa Errico (the latter had opened in Broadway's Amour the night before).
Hugh Panaro sang the Franklin Shepherd parts in Merrily We Roll Along, filling in for the missing Michael Hayden. The night's other noteworthy absence was Brian Stokes Mitchell, who played the title role in Sweeney Todd and is currently busy performing Man of La Mancha in DC. No doubt due to his unavailability, only a few tunes from Todd were showcased.
A distinct highlight of the show was Barbara Cook's renditions of "In Buddy's Eyes" and "Losing My Mind," both from Follies. Cook augmented the DC Sondheim Celebration by appearing at the Kennedy Center in her Mostly Sondheim concert. Cook's entrance was greeted by the loudest and longest ovation of the night.
The show concluded with John Barrowman's impassioned delivery of "Being Alive" from Company and "Sunday" from Sunday in the Park, in which the entire cast performed.
—By Robert Simonson