Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Hymns to Her

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Hymns to Her

Article excerpt

Manhattan School of Music evening celebrates the arc of a woman's life

Benefit concerts celebrating Sondheim's 80th birthday are plentiful in New York City this year and promise to match Broadway's best performers with his work. The Manhattan School of Music became the first organization to toast Sondheim in 2010 with Beautiful Girls, a concert on Jan. 18, 2010, at its home in Upper Manhattan. Directed by Lonny Price and starring Zoe Caldwell as the evening's host and narrator, with performers Donna McKechnie, Marin Mazzie and Jenn Colella, the concert featured a sumptuous array of pieces written for the women in Sondheim's musicals, plus one meant to be delivered by the guys.

This latter tune - "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) - was used to delicious effect to further the conceit of the evening, charting the arc of a woman's life from childhood through old age. With "Maid," the generic but surprisingly satisfying narrative had reached the point where a woman was married and her husband was suggesting employing some help around the house. Naturally, the women were delighted, soon came to realize the pitfalls of the suggestion, as Caldwell wryly punctured their reverie with cautionary line readings of such lyrics as "Sweeping out, sleeping in."

The song was one of many gleeful moments in Beautiful Girls, which could very well have an afterlife as a stand-alone revue (minus the biographical patter about the performers that was included throughout) . Other comic highlights were Mazzie and McKechnie's zinging rendition of "There's Always a Woman" (cut from Anyone Can Whistle) and the first act finale. Colella delivered with deft precision the rapid-fire lyrics of "Getting Married Today" (Company) as the act finale, all the while holding the sometimes elusive melody. Mazzie, as the church soprano, used her clarion voice to terrific effect, parodying over-emotive and self-indulgent singers. McKechnie gamely joined this first-act finale, singing the role of Paul.

By this juncture in the show, a woman's life up to marriage had been covered. The songs used to illustrate the journey to adulthood ranged from Colella's spunky and beautifully phrased "I Know Things Now" (Into the Woods) to Mazzie's thrilling interpretation of "The Miller's Son" (A Little Night Music) . …

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