On the occasion of Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday, Great Performances presents the New York Philharmonic’s gala all-star salute to a true Broadway legend.
In a year chock full of star-studded 80th birthday tributes to legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, the March 15th and 16th gala evenings with the New York Philharmonic at New York’s Lincoln Center stood tall. The two-hour Great Performances concert, Sondheim! The Birthday Concert airs Wednesday, November 24 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11).
Hosted by David Hyde Pierce, who provides sardonic narration throughout the evening, the cast, a veritable Who’s Who of Broadway’s finest performers, includes: Laura Benanti, Matt Cavanaugh, Michael Cerveris, Victoria Clark, Jenn Colella, Jason Danieley, Joanna Gleason, Nathan Gunn, George Hearn, Blaine Hoven, Patti LuPone, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, John McMartin, Donna Murphy, Laura Osnes, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Maria Riccetto, Bobby Steggert, Elaine Stritch, Jim Walton, Chip Zien, and from the current production of “West Side Story,” Karen Olivo, who gets the evening off to a spirited start leading the dancers in “America.”
Conducted by longtime Sondheim stalwart Paul Gemignani, the evening (as well as the broadcast) was directed and co-written (with Pierce) by actor-director Lonny Price, who appeared in the original cast of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. Price also directed the Great Performances presentations of Candide with the New York Philharmonicand the New York Philharmonic’s concert versions of Sweeney Todd and Camelot.
The concert includes songs and orchestral pieces from Sondheim musical theater favorites such as Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Into the Woods, and Sunday in the Park with George. Many of Sondheim’s most famous numbers are on display, of course, as well as such interesting items as “Don’t Laugh,” which he wrote for his friend Mary Rodgers’ Hot Spot, and “Growing Up,” written for a later production of Merrily We Roll Along but sung here by original cast member Walton.
In an especially memorable sequence, some notable creators of Sondheim roles reprise their greatest moments, including McMartin (Follies), Gleason and Zien (Into the Woods), Peters and Patinkin (Sunday in the Park with George), the segment concluding with a couple of rival Broadway Sweeney Todds, Hearn and Cerveris, amusingly flanking LuPone, who played Mrs. Lovett opposite both of them. Sondheim’s lesser known career as an occasional film score composer is acknowledged by a pas de deux danced to the theme written for Warren Beatty’s Reds by Riccetto and Hoven, and choreographed by Josh Rhodes.
Other highlights in an evening filled with them include “We’re Gonna Be Alright” (Mazzie and Danieley); “Johanna” (Gunn); and “Too Many Mornings” (Gunn and McDonald), and the parade of legendary leading ladies who cap the evening with a non-stop succession of showstoppers guaranteed to quicken the pulse of all bona fide show fans: “The Ladies Who Lunch” (LuPone); “Losing My Mind” (Mazzie); “The Glamorous Life” (McDonald); “Could I Leave You?” (Murphy); “Not a Day Goes By” (Peters); and “I'm Still Here” (Stritch).