Sondheim on Sondheim

7 Oct

A rare night of theatre. I mean in the sense of being uncommon.

It consists of songs performed live by the extraordinarily talented band and cast, interspersed with projections of Sondheim talking.

He talks about his art and life. I left knowing not much about either. I suspect that was the point.

The man has a certain charm, somewhere between imp and self-obsessed genius. At least, that’s his onscreen persona. He drops one mask in order to show another. It is Sondheim on Sondheim, after all.  For a musical ignoramus like myself, another voice would be helpful, one that could begin to place Sondheim’s achievement somewhere in the vast theatrical landscape. But, of course, this is not a documentary. It’s much more playful and entertaining than that.

And it’s certainly an opportunity to hear some of Sondheim’s vast catalogue performed brilliantly. I expect fans of the American legend will absolutely love this show.

Photo by Michael Francis

Photo by Michael Francis

Sondheim doesn’t do melody. (The show jokes about it.) I sort of wish he did, but then, as I’ve said, I’m a music theatre philistine. (If that’s not a tautology.) His lyrics are very clever, and most of the time I could understand them. Presented out of the context of the individual shows for which they were originally created, and with which I’m not familiar, I did have a creeping fear that their intensity was being diluted.

But there’s certainly enough here for the music theatre novice to be intrigued and enticed. Everyone knows Send in the Clowns (performed wonderfully by Debora Krizak), but there are plenty of other gems. One example is The Gun Song, performed powerfully by Blake Erickson, Rob Johnson, Phillip Lowe and Monique Salle. It’s from Assassins (a Sondheim musical I do know!) Telling of the various attempts on the lives of American presidents, it’s a fascinating exploration of violence and identity, and indicative of Sondheim’s ability to take the musical into previously uncharted territory.

I never tire of pointing out that I don’t really write reviews. I write what shows make me think about. (Yes, self-obsession, but without the genius.) And this one? It made me think about the concept of work.

Sondheim has worked for over fifty years. He’s over 80. God only knows how many songs he’s written. There’s some terrific ones in this show. He’s done the work.

Completely left field biblical allusion: Adam and Eve tended the Garden of Eden even before the Fall. Work is not what you do for a reward; it is the reward.

(Not that you shouldn’t come along to this show and enjoy somebody else’s work; the work of Sondheim and the terrific team behind this very entertaining production, Squabbalogic.)

Veronica Kaye


Sondheim on Sondheim

Seymour Centre til 18 Oct

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