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Sondheim Celebration

Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, singing at the Sondheim celebration

[Sara Krulwich/The New York Times]

Did you read Stephen Holden’s review in today’s NYT of the concert at Avery Fisher Hall two nights ago in honor of Stephen Sondheim’s upcoming 80th birthday? It sounds glorious. My friend Tina was there, and she wrote a short report about it on her Facebook page last night. (Tina is a talented singer-songwriter who over the last decade has turned to writing/composing songs for musicals. Formerly based in greater Seattle and on Whidbey Island, she now lives in New York.) She called the event “the highest point in my 55 years of show-going. … I kept thinking ‘These are all show-stopping moments. What the hell are they going to do for the finale?’ And then the finale came. Hundreds of performers from shows currently on Broadway streamed down the aisles (all dressed in black), singing the finale from Sunday in the Park with George, they were in every aisle, and even all the boxes, 2, 3 levels up. It was the most beautiful, emotional moment I’ve ever personally experienced in a theatre. Wish everyone who loves Sondheim could have been there.”

I’m in the class of Sondheim lovers, and I sure wish I could have been there. Gail and I especially love Sunday in the Park with George, which we saw on Broadway in August 1985, near the tail end of our honeymoon. You might say it’s our musical. We didn’t see the original cast — Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters were long gone — but it was magical nonetheless.

(Looking over the data at this handy site, I see that Sunday in the Park ran from May 2, 1984 to October 13, 1985, so we would have seen it near the end of its run. Patinkin’s successors were Robert Westenberg and Harry Groener; Peter’s were Betsy Joslyn and Maryann Plunkett. Perhaps, then, we saw Groener and Plunkett. I don’t remember. There was a workshop version in July 1983 that included, in smaller roles, Kelsey Grammer and Christine Baranski.)

A slide show accompanies the NYT review. Have a look. I’ll close with one quote from Holden’s review:

It remained for Ms. Stritch to deliver the evening’s showstopper, “I’m Still Here.” This great trouper, now 85, used her increasing physical fragility to maximum dramatic effect, building the anthem of show business survival from a dismissive casualness to a peak that was not the usual triumphal assertion of ego. Instead, it became a struggle for the character to break through her own fatigue in little bursts. The final phrases of this daring interpretation ended on a note of ambivalence, as if to say, “I may still be here, but at this point, what does it really matter?” The performance received a standing ovation.

Categories: Music, Theater
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