The Ordway is doing a newer series called “Broadway Songbook”. They are highlighting the brilliance behind the artists. Last year I saw one of their first shows about contemporary theater. I really enjoyed it, so I bought a ticket this past October to see “The Words and Music of Stephen Sondheim” and saw it this past Sunday afternoon. My history with Sondheim travels back a ways.
At a young age I saw “West Side Story” and have seen it countless times since then. In high school, I saw “Into the Woods” on Broadway with Vanessa Williams starring as the Witch. A few years ago I saw “A Little Night Music” at the Sydney Opera House and “Follies” in Washington D.C. with Bernadette Peters. This past fall my sister played Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd” at Penn State which she effortlessly nailed. I saw Theater Latte Da’s “Company” and Bloomington Civic Theatres “Sunday in the Park with George”. When Stephen Sondheim came to Minneapolis for an interview a few years ago I was there and I own both of his books “Finishing The Hat” and “Look, I Made A Hat”. The video of his 80th birthday celebration was phenomenal. As you can see, I adore his work.
The stage and costumes: The stage itself is quite minimal; a piano and a few stools. That’s it. Having a simple stage is the perfect set up for the show. It allows movement for the actors and the audience to focus solely on them. The actors wore all black with blue and red accent pieces which was a nice way to unify them.
The host: James A. Rocco did a marvelous job tying the show together. He told stories of Stephen Sondheim’s upbringing, his start in theater and made it entertaining. On top of hosting, he sang a few songs and you could tell he was doing what he loves.
The actors: With Sondheim there is no room for error. Due to his lyrics and notes you have to be spot on all the time. There were two cast members who stood out and I want to highlight them: Dieter Bierbrauer and Kersten Rodau. Dieter opened with “Somethings Coming” from West Side Story. His facial gestures, vocal inflections and hand movements painted the story he was telling. He also sang one of my all time favorite songs “Being Alive” from “Company”. The line “But alone, is alone, not alive” caused tears to well up in my eyes. His long, steady, high notes were beautiful. Finally, during the “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” he was the only one I noticed who embodied the character and was true to form. Now for Kersten. Although I had never heard “There Won’t Be Trumpets” before, James introduced the song and said that placed in the right hands, with the correct singer, this song could be a show stopper. Kersten was precisely the right person for the job. She showed all of her emotions in her face. Her eyes glimmered, she sang with a full tone and open mouth and looked around the entire audience which I find highly engaging. She also sang “Another Hundred Lyrics” which was a spoof on “Another Hundred People”. She crafted it beautifully and really took ownership of the song. To those two, I wish to say, bravo!
The songs: Many wonderful songs made it into the show but many did not. “Merrily We Roll Along”, “A Little Night Music” and “Sunday in the Park with George” were missing. Since Sondheim has such a large repertoire it seems to me they should do a full series on his music. Splitting it up into two or even three shows would be fine by me rather than lose some of his masterpieces. I truly hope they re-visit him. However, there were many lovely pieces included in the show but you will have to see it for yourself to know which they were.
The next “Broadway Songbook” series explores Cole Porter. He is also a composer who I love and I hope to get to that show as well. I appreciate that for this series the Ordway is using local actors. I look forward to hear who they choose for the next round.
For show details take a look at the Ordway website: