Review: June 26th Installment Of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at Feinstein's/54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

The latest Sondheim Unplugged was a sort of Sondheim family affair.

By: Jul. 07, 2022
Review: June 26th Installment Of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at Feinstein's/54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz
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The season finale of Sondheim Unplugged, the beloved, long-running series playing at Feinstein's/54 Below since 2011, was a winner, with many familiar performers and a few new ones. The June edition also marked the penultimate hosting appearance of series creator and producer Phil Geoffrey Bond, who announced the September 18th production of Sondheim Unplugged will be his last one as host. Mr. Bond has done an excellent job of curating and narrating these shows, as well as filling audiences in on "Sondheimian" facts and anecdotes. His droll delivery and funny quips in particular will be missed.

Review: June 26th Installment Of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at Feinstein's/54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz The concept is simple: an ensemble of top-notch Broadway and cabaret singers, many of whom have played in Stephen Sondheim shows, perform Sondheim's music with only piano accompaniment, each song stripped to its essence. Three albums of the best of these performances have been produced, with the third edition of Sondheim Unplugged: The NYC Sessions set to drop on September 1, 2022, on Yellow Sound Records. Mr. Bond thanked the substantial in-person audience (and the hundreds of viewers who streamed the performance) for spending their "Pride Sunday" with the show.

Review: June 26th Installment Of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at Feinstein's/54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz The evening's first performer, Ramona Mallory, has quite the Sondheim pedigree. Her father, Mark Lambert, originated the role of "Henrik" in A Little Night Music, where he met future wife and Ramona's mother, Victoria Mallory, who played opposite him as "Anne Egerman"; both of them performed at the onset of the Sondheim Unplugged series and starred in other Sondheim shows. Mr. Lambert was also a guest performer on June 26th and, adding to the family's Sondheim history, Ramona played "Anne Egerman" in the only Broadway revival of A Little Night Music. Stunning in a sleeveless short dress and knee-high leather boots, Ms. Mallory killed on "Take Me to the World" (from the macabre Evening Primrose), her incredibly expressive voice and eyes making this song the perfect opener.

The vocal group Marquee Five (Julie Reyburn, Sierra Rein, Vanessa Parvin, Mick Bleyer, and Adam West Hemming) performed a stellar "I Remember," also from Evening Primrose. The singers, all dressed in black (or mostly black) sang tight, gorgeous harmonies on this beautiful, unusual song that has become a cabaret standard, even though the lyrics make little sense without the musical's storyline. Later the group also lent their substantial talents to "No One is Alone" (Into the Woods) and "Sunday" (Sunday in the Park with George), the latter of which was their Best in Show, with a dreamy vocal arrangement.

Perhaps one of the least likely pieces performed was "The Boy From," from the 1966 review The Mad Show. This song, written under the pseudonym of Esteban Rio Nido in collaboration with Mary Rodgers (daughter of legendary composer Richard Rodgers), is a blatant parody of "The Girl from Ipanema." Lucia Spina (Into the Woods 2022 Broadway revival), took on the comedy number, funny as the gal who is in love with a fellow who is obviously gay, albeit to everyone but her, as alluded to in these lyrics:

Why are his trousers vermilion?

Why does he claim he's Castilian?

Why do his friends call him Lillian?

And I hear at the end of the week,

He's leaving to start a boutique

Julie Reyburn and Sierra Rein sang a marvelous duet of "Everyday a Little Death" from A Little Night Music with Ms. Reyburn following with a fine solo of "Send in the Clowns" from the same show. Sondheim's most famous composition was well-acted, with a tinge of irony. Mr. Bond quipped that Stephen Sondheim's reaction to the song when he first heard it was, "I don't know, it sounds like a piano bar song."

Review: June 26th Installment Of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at Feinstein's/54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz Lucia Spina, a very physical performer with a strong voice, sang "There's a Parade in Town," the first of three songs from Sondheim's least commercially successful show, Anyone Can Whistle (closing after only nine performances and twelve previews). Mark Lambert's one number was the Anyone Can Whistle title song, and with his powerful tenor voice, Mr. Lambert brought poignancy to the performance and a moving finish to the song. His daughter, Ramona Mallory, performed "There's Always a Woman" with Sierra Rein. This song was cut from "Anyone Can Whistle" but made it into a staged concert at Carnegie Hall in 1995. Rein and Mallory sang, first, in unison and then in tight harmony, with precision timing and wonderfully matched voices that made this performance a sheer delight.

Mr. Bond related a great story of Stephen Sondheim seeing Barbra Streisand at the Bon Soir while casting Anyone Can Whistle. He was not quite as impressed with the legend as most mere mortals were and, while vacillating about Streisand, she was cast in Funny Girl.

Ms. Mallory followed up with one of the evening's biggest highlights, "Moments in the Woods" from Into the Woods. The singer flaunted her considerable vocal chops by singing part of the song with a tone approaching that of a coloratura.

A segment of songs from another massive flop, Merrily We Roll Along (which lasted 16 performances and 52 previews), brought a couple of interesting tidbits. A photo that included a young Jason Alexander (George Costanza on Seinfeld) with hair and Liz Callaway in her first Broadway role drew gasps. The scathing reviews for Merrily We Roll Along led Review: June 26th Installment Of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at Feinstein's/54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz Sondheim to declare he would quit musical theater altogether; thankfully, he changed his mind. The show had such gems as "Now You Know," which was sung as a medley with "I Know Things Now" (from Into the Woods) by Sierra Rein, and "Our Time," which was performed by singer/composer Bobby Belfry, who wore a newsboy cap, and who has expressive eyes, a strong voice, and a commanding presence.

Broadway veteran Jim Poulos performed a lovely medley from Sunday in the Park with George, combining "Lesson #8" and "Children and Art." A fine actor, Mr. Poulos skillfully brought the Seurat painting at the heart of the show to life.

Review: June 26th Installment Of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at Feinstein's/54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz Frequent Sondheim Unplugged guest artist Sarah Rice closed the evening out with an all-too-brief "Goodbye for Now," which Mr. Sondheim wrote for his friend Warren Beatty's nonmusical film Reds). If there was any weakness in the show, it was not making more use of Ms. Rice and her still-glorious soprano. Sarah Rice, as the aficionados know, originated the role of Johanna in Sweeney Todd.

Stephen Sondheim purportedly loathed the "hummable show tune," yet it was nigh impossible to leave Feinstein's on June 26th without humming some of his show tunes showcased throughout the program. Kudos and best wishes to Phil Geoffrey Bond, whose replacement will have very large shoes to fill: it will be fun to see what Mr. Bond has to say at his final show on September 18th. Get your tickets now.

More information about the series can be found at https://www.sondheimunplugged.com.

For more great shows at Feinstein's/54 Below, click HERE.

Photos by Andrew Poretz

Editor's Note: This is a revised version of a review that appeared on July 6th that contained an error requiring correction. Apologies to Phil Geoffrey Bond and 54 Below for the mistake. -SM

Review: June 26th Installment Of SONDHEIM UNPLUGGED at Feinstein's/54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz Andrew Poretz, "The Boulevardier of Broadway," is an entertainer (singer, guitarist, ukulele player and storyteller), producer, and a reviewer of jazz and cabaret shows, primarily for Theater Pizzazz. An early podcaster, his "Coaches' Corner on BlogTalkRadio" segments are still available on iTunes. Andrew has performed in prominent venues throughout New York and the Bay Area. Andrew is also a board member of The American Popular Song Society. His blog, "The Boulevardier," can be found at www.andrewporetz.com



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