“Does anyone still wear a hat?” gloriously bellowed the magnetic Lesli Margherita as she wrapped up “the lightning round.” This was a portion where the cast took turns singing snippets of songs until a bell rang and another person took over. Though brief, this sequence was an exhilarating highlight of 92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “Sondheim: Wordplay” The title refers to the concert’s purpose, focusing on Stephen Sondheim’s monumental command of lyric writing.
Co-hosts and co-writers Jack Feldman and Ted Chapin alternately offered insightful commentary, historical perspective and illustrative anecdotes. The program consisted of 27 complete songs including some that were cut from shows, a few that had alternate lyrics being heard for the first time, and rarities. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Follies, Company, A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods were all well represented.
Wearing a slinky shimmering black dress, Ms. Margherita wowed with her Ethel Merman-style delivery of “The Arthur Laurents 80th Birthday Song,” a wicked special material number referencing Gypsy. The Mad Show’s sly Antônio Carlos Jobim-themed parody “The Boy From…” was another hilarious opportunity for Margherita. She also was alluring on “Anyone Can Whistle” and wrenching on “Losing My Mind.”
“Come Play Whiz Me” was a saucy duet between Margherita and the beaming Christopher Fitzgerald. “I Never Do Anything Twice” from the 1976 film The Seven Per-Cent Solution was a mirthful masterpiece due to Mr. Fitzgerald’s sensational comic, singing and dancing talents. He gave a rat-a-tat “Multitude of Amy’s” which was cut from Company. The animated Fitzgerald’s “Free” had him in all his glory, reveling in the song’s verbal complexities as he partnered with Telly Leung.
Mr. Leung did a swell rendition of “Love is in the Air” which was cut from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and was the concert’s opening number. That and “I Guess This is Goodbye” showed off Leung’s young leading man qualities. He did a stirring “Not a Day Goes By.” “Sorry-Grateful” was an engaging trio for him, Fitzgerald and Lewis Cleale. In a nod to the recent gender-bending London revival of Company, “Getting Married Today” had Mr. Cleale as the groom and Leung’s smoothly rapid singing of those swirling lyrics with Lauren Worsham chiming in.
“Marry Me a Little” originally cut from Company and years later reinstated exhibited Cleale’s soaring tenor as did his “Finishing The Hat.” “Move On” was a moving duet between him and Worsham.
“Uptown/Downtown” cut from Follies found Worsham in a jaunty jazz mode. That song was succeeded by the one that replaced it, the acidic “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” which she executed with marvelous wryness. Her “Another Hundred People” was emotionally affective. “On the Steps of The Palace” was spirited. A true rarity was “The Two of You.” This was a song Mr. Sondheim speculatively wrote in his early 20’s for the children’s television program Kukla, Fran and Ollie, but it was rejected. Accompanied by puppets as Worsham tenderly sang, it was revealed to be a lovely gem.
“The Miller’s Son” was brilliantly performed by the eternally ravishing Melissa Errico who conveyed the cascade of sarcasm, idealism and pragmatism with flair while sitting on a piano. Ms. Errico’s “I Remember” from Evening Primrose was a wistful reverie and her first act closer “Send in the Clowns” was haunting. The furious patter of “Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle was breathlessly realized and Passion’s “Loving You” was splendorous. Errico’s four numbers were like a wonderful mini-concert.
The finale was a majestic “Our Time” performed by the ensemble.
Music director Richard Carsey was on piano and was joined by Andy Einhorn, piano and Paul Pizzuti on drums & percussion. Their superb playing had an intimate quality that slightly emphasized the words over melody.
Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s direction melded the performers with expert physical placement sprinkled with occasional dance bits that made for lively presentation. The event’s visual verve was amplified by the imaginative projection design by Dan Scully. In addition to illustrative images there were projections of Sondheim’s handwritten and typed lyrics as well as stylized photographic views. These were all continually shown on the auditorium’s back wall, beautifully complementing the performers and the speakers.
No fits, no fights, no feuds
and no egos, Amigos, together!
was the lyric from “Together (Wherever We Go)” with its surprise fourth rhyme that perked up a depressed Cole Porter as Sondheim and Jule Styne played it for him in 1959. Sondheim points to this incident as perhaps the greatest event in his life. That consuming preoccupation for just the right words was manifestly conveyed by the lustrous 92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “Sondheim: Wordplay.”
92Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “Sondheim: Wordplay” (March 30-April 1, 2019)
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 including one intermission