Coverage of Wall to Wall Stephen Sondheim
There's not a tune you can hum, not a tune you go bum-bum-bum-di-dum? Have people actually said such a thing about Stephen Sondheim's musicals?!
If it were true, how on earth could Symphony Space have put together the three-hour concert that closed out Saturday's Wall to Wall Sondheim, a 12-hour spree of performances, reminiscences and panel discussions held in honor of the composer's 75th birthday. Yes, the Sondheim zealotssome of whom waited in the cold all day to get inwere plotzing at a succession of performances by Angela Lansbury, George Hearn and other Sondheim vets. But even if you had just stumbled in from under the proverbial rock, you would have had to been entranced by the sheer loveliness of the music. As arranged by the likes of Jonathan Tunick and Jason Robert Brown, as sung by everyone from the Juilliard Choral Union to Patti LuPone, and as played by an orchestra under the direction of the tireless Paul Gemignani, almost every song in the concert sounded so...melodic...tuneful...so pretty. (Y'know, all those things Sondheim has been accused of not being.) Has any opera company ever delivered a multi-voice euphony as divine as Wall to Wall's "A Weekend in the Country"?
"Nobody ever questions his genius gifts as a lyricist," Gemignani told the audience in explaining why he included an orchestral performance of "Not a Day Goes By" from Merrily We Roll Along. "People often forget he's a dual threat. He's a genius with a gift for melody also."
While such delicate Sondheim pieces as "Giants in the Sky" and "Someone in a Tree" made that abundantly clear, songs of every tempo and temperament sounded crisp and gorgeous in the concert. (One tidbit of Sondheim lore doled out during the event: He has cited "Someone in a Tree" as his favorite of all his work. Another: Gemignani was the drummer for the original Broadway production of Follies.) The singers were accompanied by the American Theatre Orchestra, except for a few piano accompaniments by Brown and Chris Fenwick.
The 8-11 p.m. concert, dubbed the "Orchestral Segment," concluded a marathon begun at 11 that morning with a mayoral proclamation and a children's production of Into the Woods. Throughout the day there were themed performance segments (comedy, waltzes) as well as segments devoted to each of Sondheim's shows, often with comments from someone associated with the original production (e.g., Barbara Barrie introduced songs from Company); discussions about various aspects of the Sondheim legacy, including "A Talk With Steve" himself (joined by James Lapine and John Weidman); and performances of his lesser-known compositions, from TV and movie music, to songs cut from shows, to instrumental compositions such as a violin sonata and a two-piano concertino that he wrote in the early '50s while studying with Oscar Hammerstein.
Some of the highlights, from 5 p.m. on...Sondheim and American Popular Culture discussion
And when the last note had been played, out came the cake. Sondheim blew out his candles and tearfully thanked all, as Lansbury, Hearn and others dabbed their eyes. Four decades of adulation crescendoed into one final ovation on a remarkable day of theater and music.
A CD of the celebration will be out soon; contact Symphony Space for information.