Lyrics & Lyricists: A Good Thing Going–Sondheim/Prince

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A Good Thing Going:
The Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince Collaboration

92nd Street Y, NYC, January 10, 2015

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

92nd-Street-Y-Sondheim-Prince-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince had been friends for years, but in 1970 their professional collaboration as composer-lyricist and director-producer [Prince had been a co-producer on West Side Story and Gypsy for which Sondheim only contributed lyrics] created an imaginative series of musicals that upended the genre. Beginning with Company, their 1970s’ shows were dramatic and imaginative with Sondheim’s evolving musical forms and reinventions and Prince defining theatrical staging with exciting innovation.

The Sondheim/Prince collaboration of Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd: The Barber Demon of Fleet Street and Merrily We Roll Along, opened the 92Y’s 2015 season of Lyrics & Lyricists. Putting it all together was David Loud, artistic/music director, orchestrator, writer and host with smart, engaging commentary.

At this time, the era of the “book” musical with singing, dancing and a light plot was ended. The post-Oklahoma!’s “integrated” musical with a story told through the songs was passé. Company, with no plot at all, became known as the “concept” musical, with songs commenting on the action. Performing the challenging music were Kate Baldwin, Heidi Blickenstaff, Liz Callaway, James Clow, Jason Danieley, and Jeremy Jordan. Bobby, Company‘s central character, 35 and lonely, watches his married friends and, while he wants something more in life, he is not convinced by the “Sorry-Grateful” mood illustrated by Danieley, Jordan and Clow. Jeremy Jordan shows the vulnerability in Robert’s chilly character with “Being Alive,” plaintive yet honest. Noah Racey’s stage direction offers moments of pure delight, like Liz Callaway’s parts in the trio “Getting Married Today,” shifting her from center stage into the audience as she fiercely tries to prove her point.

Follies, a reunion of former Follies showgirls shadowed by ghosts of their younger selves, reveals their disappointments and compromises. With young and middle-aged versions of the showgirls, Sondheim mixed character songs with pastiches to highlight the past eras. Danieley’s commanding voice introduced the traditional stroll of “Beautiful Girls.” Somewhat disappointing was the talented Blickenstaff’s “Losing My Mind,” unconvincing when overwrought segments cut the song’s integrity. Jordan had a scaled-down staging of “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” (aka “Buddy’s Blues”), but delivered it with all the gusto the smaller space allowed.

In the turn-of-the-century European feel of A Little Night Music, Sondheim worked on theme and variations of sexuality and love. The cast rendition of “Remember?” was sumptuous and Callaway was persuasive in her thoughtful “Send in the Clowns,” standing perfectly still. Danieley, Jordan and Clow scored in the simple, melodic “Pretty Lady” from Pacific Overtures.

In Sweeney Todd, the horror operetta, Danieley was outstanding in his ardent delivery of “Johanna” and Blickenstaff joined Clow in an audience pleaser, “A Little Priest.” Blickenstaff brought out the yearning in “Not a Day Goes By” from Merrily We Roll Along, the Sondheim and Prince production that followed three movers-and-shakers backward through the years. The show’s finale circled around that song, the harmonic cast blending in various Sondheim songs and insinuating listeners with an inevitable final comprehension of human emotion and pain.

An exceptional production (Jan. 10, 11, 12, 2015), A Good Thing Going featured Joseph Thalken on piano leading a stellar five-piece band.



Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.