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Review: A PERFECT LITTLE DEATH- Eleri Ward Brilliantly Reimagines Sondheim at Rockwood Music Hall

Eleri Ward gives Sondheim the indie treatment.

Review: A PERFECT LITTLE DEATH- Eleri Ward Brilliantly Reimagines Sondheim at Rockwood Music Hall

One of the hallmarks of good songwriting is that you can perform the song in a plethora of styles and it still retains its essential character. For some time Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics have been the standard against which all other musical theatre writers are measured. A Sondheim song is the gold standard. Almost from the beginning, folk and pop artists have put their particular spin on Sondheim's carefully crafted and insightful words. Judy Collin's had a huge hit with "Send In the Clowns" making it Sondheim's most famous song. Carly Simon put a similar pop spin on "Not a Day Goes By." But very few artists outside of the musical theatre have devoted an entire album to reimagining Sondheim for another genre.

That is what indie singer Eleri Ward has set out to do in her new album A PERFECT LITTLE DEATH. She recorded the album during the pandemic in a closet studio in her apartment accompanied only by her guitar and singing harmonies with herself. The result is a one-of-a-kind fusion of musical theatre and alternative music that reveals colors of Sondheim that are revelatory. Ms. Ward's fondness of minor keys and modal harmonies are a perfect fit for the ambivalence that is at the root of so many of Sondheim's best lyrics. She presents Sondheim through the filter of a generation confronted with mind-numbing challenges that nonetheless responds with beauty and kindness.

Her concert tonight at Rockwood Music Hall served as an album release of sorts. She performed selections from the album for a very appreciative audience comprised of both Sondheim fans and fans of indie music alike. If you weren't a fan of Eleri Ward coming in, it's unlikely that you left without being captivated by her. Her voice is crystalline pure, inhabiting the same effortless soprano world as Judy Collins before her. Her arrangements are rhapsodic and filled with yearning. She was visibly moved to be performing in front of a live audience again. Her performance was intimate and vulnerable and touching.Review: A PERFECT LITTLE DEATH- Eleri Ward Brilliantly Reimagines Sondheim at Rockwood Music Hall

She started with the song that inspired the title, "Every Day a Little Death," which she combined with "Losing My Mind." It was a study on the theme of obsession which is perfect for the months of pandemic we are emerging from. She followed with "Pretty Women" from Sweeney Todd, complete with the jaunty tune that Sweeney sings while contemplating his murderous revenge on the judge. These are not just musical theatre songs refracted by an alt artist. Eleri Ward truly knows her Sondheim and how it functions. One of the highlights was a beautiful rendition of "In Buddy's Eyes." She says she was inspired by Barbara Cook's performance of the song. She shares some of the clarity of Cook's voice herself.

She gave a haunting performance of "Not a Day Goes By," landing on a tantalizing blue note on the lyric "blessed day. " It was inspired. She gave a lovely performance of "Loving You" from Passion. I was particularly moved by her arrangement of "Johanna (Reprise.)" It was a glorious love song the way Ward performs it. She found ways to work in the Beggar Woman's cries of "City on Fire" and "Alms....Alms" into the riffs.

No Sondheim concert is complete without "Being Alive." Ward's version of the song was a literal cry of delight at surviving a year and a half of lockdowns. She closed her concert with a suite of songs from Into the Woods, including "Children Will Listen," "Stay With Me," "Agony" and "No One Is Alone" interwoven into a compelling morality play. I usually don't talk about the encores artists do in my reviews, but Eleri Ward's was so perfect and appropriate it deserves heaps of praise. She came back to sing Sondheim's beautiful "Sunday." It was a delicate anthem of hope. Eleri Ward's album A PERFECT DEATH is available from Ghostlight Records and on all streaming platforms. Everyone should drop whatever they are doing to have a listen to what this young artist has created. You will not be sorry.

Review: A PERFECT LITTLE DEATH- Eleri Ward Brilliantly Reimagines Sondheim at Rockwood Music Hall

For more information on Eleri Ward, visit eleriward.com or follow her @EleriWard on Twitter or @eleriward on Instagram. For more great musical acts at Rockwood Music Hall, go to rockwoodmusichall.com.


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