CHILDREN AND ART
In a wonderful, sometimes thrilling concert celebrating the 75th birthday of the one-and-only Stephen Sondheim, there were two standing ovations — one for the legendary Angela Lansbury, who made a brief non-singing appearance, and the other for the birthday boy himself — and two highly moving moments that balanced time past with times yet to come. The first arrived early in the intermissionless, two-hour evening at the New Amsterdam Theatre when Harvey Evans, Kurt Peterson, Marti Rolph and Virginia Sandifur — the Young Buddy, Young Ben, Young Sally and Young Phyllis in the original 1971 production of Follies — re-created a bit of stage magic with song and dance in a medley of "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" and "Love Will See Us Through." As their number progressed, the foursome seemed to become rejuvenated, and their sense of joy was palpable. Towards the end of the evening, the Young People's Chorus of New York City, conducted by Francisco Nuñez, built the Merrily We Roll Along anthem "Our Time" from a gentle beginning to a full throated climax, and one couldn't help be touched by the earnestness on these young faces as they claimed, "It's our time, breathe it in/ Worlds to change and worlds to win/ Our turn coming through/ Me and you."
The evening, directed by Richard Maltby, Jr. with musical direction by Kevin Stites, began with an Overture comprising several Sondheim ditties, all well sung by the 75-member Broadway Star Chorus. Bernadette Peters, who created roles in both Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods, made a brief appearance via a large video screen, wishing Sondheim well and singing a few bars from the song she introduced — which was also the title of the evening — "Children and Art." Harold Prince offered a few remarks, recalling his and Sondheim's many collaborations, before Ann Morrison, Lonny Price and Jim Walton took charge of the stage to deliver the song they debuted in the original 1981 production of Merrily We Roll Along, "Old Friends." The ever-youthful Judy Kuhn, a luminous Rebecca Luker and Tony winner Michele Pawk were joined by Michael Cerveris, John Dossett and Hugh Panaro for a terrific rendition of "A Weekend in the Country."
Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg drew laughs but also touched the heart with a sincere thank you to Mr. Sondheim for allowing her the chance to sing on Broadway in one of his musicals. As successor to Nathan Lane in the A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum revival, Goldberg said that opportunity gave her the chance to play a good natured Sondheim with dozens and dozens of musical-theatre-related questions. The Broadway Star Chorus offered "Loveland," and Debra Monk and David Hyde Pierce deadpanned their way through Company's "The Little Things You Do Together."
Jason Danieley then performed a superb, full-voiced rendition of the magnificent "Marry Me a Little," which was followed by the aforementioned Follies reunion. Alice Ripley reprised her comical, lightning fast rendition of "Getting Married Today" — from the Kennedy Center mounting of Company — opposite the Paul of Brian D'Arcy James. The cast of "Desperate Housewives" offered one of the most humorous moments of the night in a short film created especially for the evening by creator Marc Cherry, who has titled his "Housewives" episodes with Sondheim song titles. With the now-familiar voiceover of Wisteria Lane's Mary Alice Young (actress Brenda Strong), each of the "Housewives" characters announced his or her favorite Sondheim song: the fastidious Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross) chose "Losing My Mind," the shirtless gardener John Rowland (Jesse Metcalfe) picked "Ah, But Underneath" and the sexy, somewhat ditzy Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan) chose "Jellicle Cats."
Mia Farrow thanked Sondheim for his kindness toward her children, getting laughs when she confessed that the first gift the word-loving composer ever gave her daughter was a thesaurus, which weighed more than she did at the time. Two Tony Award winners and Broadway favorites, Betty Buckley and Harvey Fierstein, then displayed their inimitable skills. Buckley belted an upbeat version of West Side Story's "Tonight," and Fierstein — in complete Tevye drag — got the chance to sing a surprisingly powerful version of the second half of Gypsy's "Rose's Turn."
John Weidman introduced most of the recent cast of Assassins, who delivered a chilling version of "Everybody's Got the Right," and three numbers from what is arguably Sondheim's masterpiece, Sweeney Todd, followed: "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" (featuring The Broadway Star Chorus), "Kiss Me" (with Stephen Buntrock, Walter Charles, Blake Hammond and Anne Hathaway) and "A Little Priest" (with George Hearn and Patti LuPone).
The evening, it should be noted, benefited Young Playwrights Inc., an organization founded by Sondheim in 1981 to nurture young playwrights. One of those former young writers, Kenneth Lonergan — of This Is Our Youth and "You Can Count On Me" fame — then spoke dryly, but humorously, about his participation in the program years ago. Lonergan said he was thankful for that opportunity even though he didn't enjoy it!
A surprise delight of the night was B.D. Wong — who knew he could dance so well? — who performed "Dick Tracy's""More." With choreography by Darren Lee, Wong was joined by his recent Pacific Overtures castmates Michael Bulatao, Evan D'Angeles, Rick Edinger, Lee, Telly Leung, Mayumi Omagari, Yuka Takara, Kim Varhola and Scott Watanabe.
Dame Edna Everage commandeered the stage, explaining that the show had now reached its climax — "whenever I'm onstage, it's the climax" — and that she had left her own tribute at Lincoln Center to attend the Sondheim evening. Her interesting version of "Losing My Mind" — it's impossible not to laugh at the Dame's facial expressions as she sings, "not going left! not going right!" — followed her amusing musings.
Barbara Cook scored with "Buddy's Eyes," and Brian Stokes Mitchell — accompanied by John Bucchino — lent his rich baritone to a jazzy "Pretty Women." Marin Mazzie delivered a booming, teary-eyed "Not a Day Goes By," and Stephanie D'Abruzzo — with Avenue Q's Lucy T. Slut on hand — vamped her way through "Sooner or Later."
Donna Murphy's high voltage "See What It Gets You" was followed by Tonya Pinkins, who fared better with a lovely reading of "I Remember" than she did with an odd, too-rangy arrangement of "Another Hundred People." Audra McDonald demonstrated why she wins award after award with a terrific version of Anyone Can Whistle's "There Won't Be Trumpets," and Cynthia Nixon's remarks about Young Playwrights Inc. preceded the already discussed performance by the Young People's Chorus.
Barbra Streisand also made a video appearance — with her dog growling in the background — and recalled the weekend she spent with Sondheim while he rewrote lyrics for "Putting It Together." Gerald Schoenfeld spoke about how he relished producing Sunday in the Park with George, and Melissa Errico and Raul Esparza performed two songs from that brilliant musical, "Move On" and "Sunday."
Betty Buckley returned for a stirring version of Into the Woods' "Children Will Listen," backed by the Broadway Star Chorus, and the end of the evening also included brief remarks by Lansbury and Sondheim himself, who was too choked up to say more than a few thank-yous.
The "art" of Children and Art was clearly evident, though it's impossible to choose a favorite from the evening, almost as difficult as choosing a favorite Sondheim tune. But, how fitting that the "children" of Children and Art provided what, for me, was the evening's most touching moment. Let's hope that Mr. Sondheim gives them, and us, "more to see." Playbill.com