Sondheim! The Birthday Concert, Blu-ray (2010)

by | Nov 20, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Sondheim! The Birthday Concert, Blu-ray (2010)

Gala celebration at Avery Fisher Hall for Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim’s 80th Birthday (March 15-16, 2010)
Performers Incl.: Joanna Gleason, Nathan Gunn, George Hearn, Patti Lupone, Audra McDonald, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Elaine Stritch; Paul Gemignani cond. The New York Philharmonic; David Hyde Pierce – host
Studio: WNET/Image Entertainment [11/16/10]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 1080i HD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audi 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: None
Length: 116 minutes
Rating: *****

This spectacular tribute to the master composer and lyricist was just on PBS last week, but the Blu-ray is your change to see it with both improved image definition (1080 instead of 720) and improved audio (lossless DTS surround instead of Dolby stereo).  It also has the advantage of all two dozen selections being identified on the back cover along with which Sondheim stage production they came from – something which should have been credited briefly onscreen at the beginning of each selection, but wasn’t.

The evening gets underway with an interesting overture arranged from various Sondheim selections. David Hyde Pierce is a perfect and enjoyable host of the event. The first two song selections are from West Side Story, which of course was only Sondheim’s lyrics – the music being Leonard Bernstein. There is terrific variety in the various selections, which illustrate the wide range of Sondheim’s work and how trenchant and intelligent it all is. One singer mentions how all of Sondheim’s musicals sound quite different from one another – something I hadn’t realized before. Hyde Pierce and the conductor (who has led the orchestra in all of Sondheim’s Broadway musicals) have a running gag in which Gemignani wants to lead the orchestra prematurely in music from Sweeney Todd (which I also think is Sondheim’s best of all).

Some of the songs are performed by the original Broadway cast members, and some of the new faces are most entertaining.  Audra McDonald is a standout in her numbers, and of course Sondheim regulars such as Bernadette Peters and Mady Patinkin are superb. (I still don’t understand his song, “Finishing the Hat,” but no matter.) Patti Lupone belts out an ascerbic “Ladies Who Lunch” with gusto. The amazing Elaine Stritch does her most appropriate tune, “I’m Still Here,” from Sondheim’s Follies – she also did it on her amazing one-woman show on DVD. There is even a two-person ballet excerpt on Sondheim’s theme from the film Reds.

A memorable Broadway evening, wonderfully preserved on Blu-ray.

Here’s just some of the 25 selections:

"America" (Dancers – West Side Story), "Something’s Coming" (Alexander Gemingnani – West Side Story), "We’re Gonna Be Alright" (Marin Mazzie, Jason Danieley – Do I Hear a Waltz?), "Don’t Laugh" (Victoria Clark– Hot Spot), "Johanna"(Nathan Gunn – Sweeney Todd), "You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow" and "Love Will See Us Through" (Matt Cavenaugh, Jenn Colella, Laura Osnes, Bobby Steggert – Follies), "Too Many Mornings" (Nathan Gunn, Audra McDonald – Follies), "The Road You Didn’t Take" (John McMartin – Follies), "It Takes Two" (Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien – Into the Woods), "Growing Up" (Jim Walton – Merrily We Roll Along), "Finishing the Hat" (Mandy Patinkin – Sunday in the Park with George), "Move On" (Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters – Sunday in the Park with George), "Pretty Women"(Michael Cerveris, George Hearn – Sweeney Todd), "A Little Priest" (Michael Cerveris, George Hearn, Patti LuPone – Sweeney Todd), “Theme from ‘Reds’” with Pas De Deux (NY Philharmonic, Two ABT Dancers: Maria and Blaine), "So Many People" (Laura Benanti – Saturday Night), "Beautiful Girls" (David Hyde Pierce), "Ladies Who Lunch" (Patti LuPone – Company), "Losing My Mind" (Marin Mazzie – Follies), "The Glamorous Life" (Audra McDonald – A Little Night Music), "Leave You" (Donna Murphy – Follies), "Not a Day Goes By" (Bernadette Peters – Merrily We Roll Along), "I’m Still Here" (Elaine Stritch – Follies), "Sunday" (Broadway Chorus– Sunday in the Park with George), "Happy Birthday" (All Cast)

 – John Sunier

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