It focused on the artistic partnership between composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim and director Harold Prince, who have been friends since 1949. The show had songs from the six Broadway musicals they created between 1970 and 1981. Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along were all wonderfully represented.
Mr. Loud’s personal connection to the subject matter added an authoritative dimension to the evening. As a nearly 19-old Yale student, he auditioned for the original production of Merrily We Roll Along and after a drawn-out process was given a small role in it.
He chronicled the arduous five-week rehearsal process that saw numerous changes to the show: “By opening night it was much better.” Though it ran only 16 performances, Sondheim was exhilarated by the experience. This was the most represented show in the evening with six songs including, “Good Thing Going,” “The Hills of Tomorrow” and “Our Time.”
Sitting on a high chair off to the side of the stage, he read his concise, insightful, and often droll commentary from a stand. Sondheim’s accomplishments have been much lauded and it was refreshingly informative for Loud to give a detailed account of Prince’s often groundbreaking achievements.
He analyzed the separate responsibilities of a producer and a director and marveled that Prince did them at the same time. This was most illustrative in the section dealing with the Japanese themed Pacific Overtures. Slides of Prince with set designer Boris Aronson were shown while discussing that show’s stunning production. “I direct diagonally as opposed to laterally,” Prince was quoted as an explanation of his innovative techniques. There were also slides and analysis of Sweeney Todd’s enormous 19th century industrial factory set that was Prince’s concept.
“Company is a triumph! The show looks like it comes from the pit,” was a quotation from a congratulatory letter by Richard Rodgers to Sondheim, after that show’s opening. It was heartfelt praise considering their acrimonious working relationship on 1965’s Do I Hear a Waltz?. “That was a dead show,” Sondheim declared. Sex columnist Dan Savage was quoted about the show’s song, “Sorry-Grateful”: “One of the best things ever written about committed relationships.”
Animated Jeremy Jordan was the most outstanding of the concert’s six performers. Vocally and physically commanding, his take on “Being Alive” from Company was superb. His voice soared emotionally while hitting all the notes without becoming bombastic. Frantically dancing and gesturing during “The God-Why-Don’t You-Love Me-Blues” from Follies, he was thrilling.
Wearing a bridal veil, and running around the audience, Liz Callaway, who made her Broadway debut in the original production of Merrily We Roll, did a hilarious “Getting Married Today,” from Company. Her “Send in The Clowns” from a Little Night Music was simple, touching, and made it a joy to hear those familiar lyrics once again. From Merrily We Roll Along, she sang a dramatic combination of “Old Friends” and “Now You Know.”
Heidi Blickenstaff made a great impression with the dramatic numbers, “Another Hundred people” from Company, “Losing My Mind” from Follies, and “Not A Day Goes By” from Merrily We Roll Along. She was also marvelously zany with her Cockney accent for “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd.
For that comic duet, the charmingly low key James Clow was a very fine Todd and it was a terrific highpoint for him as he chiefly appeared in the ensemble numbers.
“Could I Leave You?” from Follies was perfectly performed by Kate Baldwin, with all its bitter intricacies and with a jazzy orchestration. She was equally acute on “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from Company.
Jason Danieley solidly performed in the ensemble numbers and his excellent, rich, voice was in great form during “Beautiful Girls” from Follies and “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd.
Director Noah Racey’s tremendous work was evident during the visually thrilling ensemble sequences. They were like miniature production numbers that captured the essence of those shows. The title song from Company, “Remember?” and “A Weekend in The Country,” both from A Little Night Music, and “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” were all dazzling.
Mr. Loud explained that the show had a week of a rehearsals and the most difficult segment was that of Pacific Overtures. This was mainly due to the cast’s unfamiliarity with the score as it was written for and originally performed for Asian performers. “The Advantages of Floating in The Middle of The Sea,” “Poems,” and “Pretty Lady,” were all flawlessly performed and staged even with that impediment.
The look of the show was greatly enhanced by lighting designer John Kelly’s highly skillful and varied work. Each song was strikingly lit with individual flair.
The formidable orchestra was composed of Joseph Thalken, the conductor and on piano, Dave Noland on woodwinds, Robert Zubrycki on the violin, Sarah Seiver on the cello, Bill Ellison on bass, and Bruce Doctor on drums.
In addition to all of his other creative duties, Mr. Loud also did the fresh orchestrations for all but two of the songs. These others were the work of Neil Douglas Reilly.
Hearing these Sondheim classic songs well performed and seeing them vibrantly staged was reason enough for this concert to be considered a success. That it also paid tribute to the artistry of Harold Prince with its revelatory documentary presentation made it an even more glorious event.
92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “A Good Thing Going: The Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince Collaboration” (January 10 – 12, 2015)
92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call (212) 415.5500 or visit http://www.92y.org
Running time: two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission