The lunch, hosted by the Critics' Circle's president Tom Sutcliffe and the Drama section chairman Mark Shenton (who is also Playbill.com's London correspondent), also featured a personal tribute to Sondheim sung by Maria Friedman, who starred in the original London production of Sunday in the Park with George at the National Theatre; she performed "The Worst Pies in London" (from Sweeney Todd), "Isn't He Something!" (from Road Show) and "Losing My Mind" (from Follies).
In his speech, Shenton commented, "It was with some trepidation that I wrote to Stephen Sondheim after the Critics' Circle voted him the recipient of this year's Circle Award for distinguished services to the arts. On the very day I wrote to him, the Guardian had run an extract from his second volume of collected lyrics, 'Look I Made a Hat,' which coincidentally has just won the Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography, in which he wrote of his feelings of awards: he said that they 'have three things to offer: cash, confidence and bric-a-brac. A few offer all three, but even though some of the bric-a-brac is handsome indeed, the only awards that have significant value are the ones that come with cash.' And then he went on to say, 'For the awardee, the most depressing is the lifetime achievement, which signifies one more nail in your coffin. It denotes the slippage from respect into veneration. In my blacker moments, I think of it as the Thanks-a-Lot-And-Out-with-the-Garbage award.' Well, today we are giving Steve no money, but a bit more bric-a-brac in the shape of what is effectively a lifetime achievement award. As he wrote to me to say after I told him about it, 'I hope none of the Circle regrets having bestowed the award on me after reading the excerpts from my book.'"
Previous recipients of the annual Critics' Circle Award for Distinguished Services to the Arts include Sir Peter Hall, Sir Richard Eyre, Dame Judi Dench, Harold Pinter, Paul Scofield, Sir Ian McKellen, Mike Leigh, Alan Bennett, Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Tom Stoppard, Peter Brook, Alan Aycbkourn and Ken Loach.
The Menier Chocolate Factory's association with the composer includes originating revivals of Sunday in the Park with George and A Little Night Music that both subsequently went to the West End and Broadway, as well as the British premiere of Road Show.