Feinstein’s 54 Below
March 25, 2018
Stephen Sondheim redefined American musical theater. Fifteen of his works were highlighted by Phil Geoffrey Bond in the Sondheim Unplugged series, now in its seventh season. The evening featured Sondheim’s music and lyrics, (as well as several numbers created in collaboration with others), performed by actor/singers, several of them alums of the original Broadway shows. The singers were accompanied by masterful pianist Joe Goodrich and laced with just enough views of posters and behind-the-scenes film shots shown on monitors. The final still of Sondheim, who recently celebrated his eighty-seventh birthday, triggered tears of gratitude.
Bond interspersed numbers with Sondheimian factoids and brief intros of the artists. Musical numbers ranged from the familiar, emotionally-charged “Clowns” from A Little Night Music to an interesting, mostly female rendition of “Pretty Lady” from Pacific Overtures to less-heard offerings like “Talent” from Road Show, a work that never made it to New York.
Of the nine performers, particular kudos to Jacob Hoffman who gave “A Bowler Hat” from Pacific Overtures a special depth and irony. Lucia Spina made The Boy From (music by Mary Rogers) her own with a fine voice, great diction and superior comic timing. I’ve heard Getting Married from Company more times than I can count yet found Erica Spyres’ rendition fresh and funny with that necessary undertone of pure panic as she dashed from mic to mic. I’d love to know what fountain of youth Jim Walton imbibes as he was the original Franklin Shepard in the 1981 short-running production of Merrily We Roll Along yet retains a pretty youthful voice and presentation.
The evening’s audience was larded with regulars, some clearly even more familiar with Sondheim than I as they got Bond’s in-jokes. Didn’t matter in the least; what did and does is the astounding talent of the master and the highly professional presentation by the singers and their accompanist. Without an orchestra there is the opportunity to sink into each number and appreciate how Sondheim’s work became increasingly intricate and subtle as his career progressed. Sure, he created some less than entirely successful shows along the way (I didn’t adore Assassins), but overall his originality, range and daring revitalized American musical theater. Mr. Sondheim—you indeed made a hat where there never was a hat. For this, endless rounds of applause. Also a well-deserved round for the performers of Sondheim Unplugged who showcased your work in a manner worthy of your artistry.