Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Resonating with Audiences

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Resonating with Audiences

Article excerpt

Four-CD set surveys Sondheim's artistic output

"Sure, he's a genius, that's easy to say," Nathan Lane writes in the liner notes to Stephen Sondheim: The Story So Far. "Although it's thrown around an awful lot, certain people unequivocally deserve it, and he is one. What also never changes is the surprising modesty, hard work and astonishing craftsmanship of a real man of the theatre. He's all about getting it right, with economy, wit and surprise." Those precise qualities are on display in Sony-BMG's excellent, elegant, four-CD boxed set summarizing Sondheim's career, illustrating the depth of his songwriting ability and the high regard the theatrical community has for him.

The set's first three discs feature selections from each of Sondheim's shows, taken largely from the original cast albums (although the Follies tracks are from the 1985 Lincoln Center concert recording). The fourth disc contains music from films (selections from Stavisky, Reds and Dick Tracy), television ("The Two of You," written for Kukla, Fran and Ollie), plays (incidental music from Invitation to a March and The Enclave) or unfinished projects, in particular four cuts from a 1954 backers' audition for Saturday Night featuring the very young voices of Alice Ghostley, Jack Cassidy and Arte Johnson.

The set spans a two-piano instrumental of "I Must Be Dreaming" from All That Glitters, Sondheim's 1948 Williams College show, to the revised opening for the 2004 version of The Frogs. Sondheim's private demo recordings of a dozen songs are also included, serving as a sort of companion to PS Classics' two Sondheim Sings Sondheim albums.

Among the collection's surprises is Sondheim's demo of the complete version of "Don't Laugh" from the 1963 Mary Rodgers musical Hot Spot. While the hilarious first half of the song is familiar to listeners of the Hey Love revue cast recording (where it was titled "Show Me"), the full song illustrates Sondheim's thoroughness as a dramatic lyricist. According to Sondheim's liner note, the character, originally played by Judy Holliday, is "a young woman joining the Peace Corps with high hopes and no self-assurance." In many ways she anticipates Nurse Fay Apple in Anyone Can Whistle, and the release of "Don't Laugh" - including the lyric "Show me an insurrection!/Show me the way to get there!" - bears strong similarities to Whistle's "See What It Gets You. …

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