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BWW Album Review: Melissa Errico's SONDHEIM SUBLIME

BWW Album Review: Melissa Errico's SONDHEIM SUBLIME

Melissa Errico is one of the most reliable theatre divas in contemporary musical theatre. With her fierce belt and a knack for finding the most interesting moments in music, it's no surprise that she's released an album of Sondheim music. The surprise in Sondheim Sublime is which style of Sondheim she chooses: not the sly, sharp, witty Sondheim, but the bittersweet, thoughtful songs that sometimes get lost in the shuffle.

In a way, there are three sections to the album, and things kick off with a handful of bittersweet songs about love. "Sooner or Later" and "Loving You," the first two tracks, are incredibly expressive and moving, if fairly similar in tone. It's not until "No More," though, that we get into the interesting melodies and incredibly unique lyrics that are pure Sondheim, regardless of tempo or context. Errico seems to really come into her own at this point, embracing the more complex melodies and lyrics. "The Miller's Son" picks up the energy a bit, with a quirky, patter-y almost-love song.

It's the middle of the album that most fans are probably the most excited about, and it's this group of songs where Errico shines most of all. We could call it the "greatest hits" section: five of the most recognizable Sondheim ballads. "Losing My Mind" and "Send In The Clowns" are both songs that tend to get sung out of context a lot; one of the tricks to performing Sondheim is how specific his lyrics can often be, and singing songs out of context doesn't always work as well as it could. Not to worry: we don't need anything other than Errico's voice to capture all the meaning and nuance.

There's a pair of songs that have a motherly feel to them, at least in Errico's interpretation. "Not While I'm Around," Sweeney Todd's not-love song of devotion, takes on the feeling of a mother singing to her child with Errico's warm interpretation. Similarly, "Children Will Listen," out of its eerie Into The Woods context, feels like a perfect counterpoint: a gentle warning and reminder of the responsibilities of adulthood. Sondheim is not, perhaps, a "great moralizer" in the same way that Oscar Hammerstein II was, but his lyrics do often have this sort of complex reminders of moral consequences.

The temptation, when including a large number of highly recognizable songs, is to "transform" them all, whether via quirky arrangements or by combining them into medleys - often with rather mixed results. Luckily, Errico's album only contains one mash-up, and it's a perfect pair. "Not A Day Goes By/Marry Me A Little" is clever, thematically relevant, and musically well matched. Plus, it finally gives us a moment to pick up the tempo.

Frankly, that's the main weakness of this album. Although every track, on its own, is lovely and moving, put together, it's an awful lot of longing and bittersweetness and sadness all at once. The liner notes explain that this was a specific choice, to emphasize the wisdom and reflection and lyricism of Sondheim (as opposed to the more biting of his music), but it does sometimes have the effect of dulling itself with so many bittersweet ballads back-to-back.

This is particularly evident in the last segment of the album, featuring a handful of songs that all have a "finale" sort of feel: poignant and mixed-emotion goodbyes. The best of the bunch is definitely "Goodbye For Now," full of emotional and vocal nuance. And "Children and Art," though it doesn't necessarily match the rest of the album's content, is a surprisingly moving bonus. The song, from Sunday in the Park with George, is an incredibly gorgeous, almost conversational meditation on the two things that humans leave behind as their legacies: their children and their art. "Isn't it lovely how artists can capture us?" Yes. Yes it is.

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