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We All Got the Gift of Our Favorite Stars Serenading Us With Sondheim Music for His 90th Birthday

 

Meryl Streep drinking a martini during Stephen Sondheim's concert

Stephen Sondheim turned 90 years old on March 22nd. With the way the world has been going, it was a day filled with thank yous and memories, but that’s about it—no big concert to honor the man who means the world to many musical theater fans (like myself), because … well … we physically cannot go outside.

So, to help honor Sondheim for his 90 years, the Broadway community (with some pretty heavy hitters, like Meryl Streep and Sondheim legends like Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters) joined together to bring us a concert from their homes to celebrate the man and the legend.

You can watch the full concert here. (I’ll be breaking it down below.)

One thing was clear throughout the entire production: There are so many Sondheim songs that mean the world to us. Some of my all-time favorites didn’t even make the cut because there are just that many to choose from. With songs from all of Sondheim’s classics, as well as his work in movies and beyond, there is just so much to unpack. So, let’s get into it!

I’m sorry to Judy Kuhn, but every time I listen to her sing, I hear Pocohantas, so it was like Pocohantas was singing a song from the movie Dick Tracy to honor Stephen Sondheim. Honestly, I don’t know. It’s just hilarious to see what songs everyone chose, and the fact that Judy Kuhn said “Mmm yes, Dick Tracy” instead of any of Sondheim’s other work delights me.

The current Bobbi in Broadway’s Company is Katrina Lenk, who decided to tackle “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd, and there’s a lot going on, but it’s important to note that many online were upset that the new revival of Company has Bobbi dating all men, when in the context of the original show, Bobby was bisexual.

Katrina Lenk decided to sing “Johanna,” the song that Anthony sings, with just her guitar and promptly helped to save 2020.

Trucking along on the Company train, Aaron Tveit staring into your soul singing “Marry Me A Little” from Company is, honestly, something I never needed and yet has fulfilled me and made me want to cry and die all at once—which, I guess, is just the way of Aaron Tveit. Having played Bobby in a production in Boston, I would love if Aaron Tveit continued to sing “Marry Me A Little” while on the verge of tears.

Brandon Uranowitz is the kind of performer that takes over a scene and makes you hold onto every word that leaves his lips. Trust me, I saw him in Roadshow, and I’m still thinking about it all this time later. (I was also supposed to see him in Assassins last week, so I’m having some feelings.)

The point being: Brandon Uranowitz knows Stephen Sondheim.

Know how everyone loves Lea Salonga? That’s because she’s perfect. Well, no one is perfect, but you get what I mean. She’s a musical theatre icon, the singing voice of Mulan, and consistently one of the greatest performers. I’d also love to see her in more Sondheim performances after this.

Brian Stokes Mitchell, or Rachel Berry’s father if you’d RATHER, overcame coronavirus and rolled into Sondheim’s birthday concert to bring to life Assassins (or a cut song, rather) and honestly still has the voice of an angel. I don’t understand it, probably never will, but that’s okay, we just get to listen to Brian Stokes Mitchell sing, and honestly, that’s a gift to us ALL. Well, we get to see him in this video, while his neighbors are serenaded every day out of his window, so … they’re actually the lucky ones.

Before we get into the big shows of the night, let’s talk about “The Ladies Who Lunch.” An iconic song from Company that is, currently, being performed by Patti LuPone in the revival (and has been performed by Patti LuPone in countless productions), its Sondheim birthday rendition is a bit different—mainly because they got Audra McDonald, Christine Baranskiand Meryl Streep.

Sorry, just in case you weren’t aware of how iconic that is, it is ALL THREE OF THEM SINGING WHILE DRINKING. (It’s also a Ricki and the Flash reunion for Meryl/Audra and a Mamma Mia reunion for Meryl/Christine, so I’m YELLING.)

Obviously, Twitter just also kept yelling about the three of them, because how can you NOT?

There was plenty of Into the Woods to take us through the night—maybe because it’s one of those shows that everyone has some kind of connection to. Whether seeing it as a kid and being absolutely baffled or watching Chris Pine sing “Agony” and falling in love in the movie, there are so many who love the show, and rightfully so. That means that out of all the performances, the most came from this show!

From Lin-Manuel Miranda doing “Giants in the Sky” to Ben Platt and Beanie Feldstein taking on the Baker and the Baker’s Wife, there was a lot to see.

I don’t know if it was PLANNED this way (with delays and everything else), but the 11 o’clock number was … well … Sondheim’s (arguably) most famous 11 o’clock number, “Send in the Clowns”—and also the song I will cry over no matter what. Donna Murphy, who is an icon in her own right, just simply sat in front of a piano and sang, and that’s all I could have wanted.

But, for me, Sunday in the Park with George is one of my all-time favorite Stephen Sondheim shows. I’m strange about Sondheim musicals; I won’t listen to them until I’ve seen them in a live form in some way or another. So, I went into the Jake Gyllenhaal production and came out a sobbing mess, and it hasn’t stopped. This was in 2017. But alas, Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford (who played Dot) are planning to do the show again in London, and thus sang the iconic “Move On.”

That’s not all, though. Michael Cerverais sang “Finishing the Hat” to a window, Mandy Patinkin (who originated George) sang “Lesson #8” in an empty park, and Melissa Errico made me cry over “Children and Art,” so you know, a great time for me. Great fun.

I didn’t even talk about Raúl Esparza because I’m still trying to unpack the beauty of his ring light shining on him as he sang—even if I would love if he had done “Being Alive,” as he was, technically, the host.)

One thing I didn’t particularly love was that two of the greatest Sondheim roles for women (the Witch from Into the Woods and Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd) were represented by men singing their songs … because they wanted to point out that the women often get the best songs? It was weird, and I didn’t like it, because like the only Sweeney Todd song for Mrs. Lovett was “By the Sea,” sung by Randy Rainbow, and like … Mrs. Lovett deserved better.

I do love that Nathan Lane was not aware that Stephen Sondheim has had birthday concerts in the past, but just … you know … with an audience.

Here’s the one for Sondheim’s 80th birthday and a video that frequently makes me cry. (I just really love Mandy Patinkin.)

To this day, I think about seeing Stephen Sondheim at the closing performance of Sunday in the Park With George and just clapping at him because it’s the only thing you really can do for his music and work. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Sondheim. Happy birthday.

And, anyway, my new headcanon is that Aaron Tveit and Jake Gyllenhaal are quarantining together and sharing one set of AirPods.

(image: Broadway.com)

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Rachel is an I, Tonya stan who used to have a poster of Frank Sinatra on her wall as a kid. She loves superheroes, weird musicals, and wants Robert Downey Jr. to release a new album. She is Leslie Knope and she's okay with that. At least she gets to live in New York City though!