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Review: SONDHEIM TRIBUTE at Studio De L'Accord Parfait

A musical concert celebrating the works of Stephen Sondheim

For two special performances, the first professional production of the 10th season of American Musical Theater Live Paris was fittingly a Sondheim tribute, one of the first in the city after the Chatelet's mini-concert of January 15th, which incorporated some interesting some French translations of the lyrics by the late Alain Marcel. Expertly accompanied at the piano by the magic fingers of Charlotte Gauthier and the vocals of David Alexander Johnson-Thomas Bulle, Elizabeth Paavel, and AMT Live founder Miranda Crispin gave us very emotional, carefully chosen selections of well and lesser-known material, articulated around four different themes: the human condition, the fragile human heart, the pessimist and the optimist, and loneliness and connection.

Review: SONDHEIM TRIBUTE at Studio De L'Accord Parfait Invoking The Frogs (1974) made for a perfect, humorous overture, especially in such an intimate venue as L'Accord Parfait in the Montmartre neighborhood, with the actors addressing the audience only a meter away and with the house lights on. After a lovely duet from Miranda and Elizabeth to "The Girls from Summer" from Sondheim's trunk musical Marry Me a Little (1980), a selection from the ill-fated Anyone Can Whistle followed. It was good to hear such gems from this great score such as "There Won't Be Trumpets," "Everybody Says Don't," the title song emotionally delivered by David Alexander Johnson, and later on the romantic but so relevant "With So Little to Be Sure of" without having to bear the surprisingly awful nonsense of the book by Arthur Laurents!

The highlight of the second segment about the fragility of the human heart was Miranda's heartfelt rendition of "Loving You," from Sondheim's underrated Passion (1994). Although Elizabeth did well with Sondheim's most famous song, albeit originally written for an actress and not a soprano, "Send in the Clowns," from A Little Night Music (1973), "The Best Thing That Ever Happened," Sondheim's coming out duet from his very last show Bounce, later renamed Roadshow (2003), would have had more impact with two men, as it was written for.

More from perhaps my favorite Sondheim musical Night Music came next, with the dark "Everyday a Little Death" beautifully rendered by Miranda and Elizabeth, followed by the humorously male chauvinist duet "It Would Have Been Wonderful." Ending this segment on an optimistic note, Miranda killed it with "Some People" from Gypsy (1959, music by Jule Styne).

Review: SONDHEIM TRIBUTE at Studio De L'Accord Parfait The penultimate segment started with two excerpts from Sweeney Todd (1979), "Green Finch and Linnet Bird," impeccably delivered by Elizabeth, and "My Friends" by Thomas, wielding the razor with glee to Miranda as his Mrs. Lovett!

David, who already conducted a Sondheim masterclass for AMT Live, then delivers a touching "Being Alive" from Company (1970), followed by a group rendition of "Somewhere" from West Side Story (music by Leonard Bernstein), leading on to a selection from Into the Woods (1986), Sondheim's most performed musical, including "On the Steps of the Palace," "Agony" (perhaps too similar to the Night Music male duet), and perhaps Sondheim's most uplifting song from the score, "No One Is Alone."

"Our Time," from Sondheim's most legendary flop Merrily, containing some of his greatest songs, is a fitting finale for the talented cast of four actor-singers, and "Broadway Baby," recently performed during the monthly packed open mic of AMT Live's, is the best encore one could ask for.

Review: SONDHEIM TRIBUTE at Studio De L'Accord Parfait

To quote Dr. Kevin Land Justus, the new president of AMT Live Paris, "Especially now, when everything seems so uncertain, is it not the role of great theater, to inspire, to enlighten, to challenge, but most importantly allow us to feel? So as the great Sondheim wrote himself: 'Someday maybe, if I stick to it long enough, I may get to strut my stuff. . . in a great, big Broadway Show'"!

True, Sondheim doesn't necessarily need a symphonic orchestra, a big stage, or a large cast, because as Miranda puts it, "The Stories told in Sondheim's tunes provide a poignant connection to, and a reflection on, the human condition, we explore love and fear, connection and loneliness, optimism and cynicism, courage and vulnerability, all with more than a dash of wit." She emphasizes that AMT's "goal is to honor this work, and to share a few of our favorite songs, simply, with no bells or whistles."

Through these two special concerts, not with "just a bed and a chair", but simply with a bare stage, good acoustics, a quality piano, and above all a multi-talented cast and brilliant yet subtle accompaniment by the great Charlotte Gauthier, Miranda and her colleagues certainly more than achieve this goal. We are definitely craving for more!

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