Judy Collins: A Love Letter to Sondheim

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Judy Collins

A Love Letter to Sondheim

Café Carlyle, NYC, March 27, 2018

Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes

Judy Collins
Photo: David Andrako

Judy Collins still has that eerily beautiful voice. She may also now have flowing white hair to match her flowing white dress, but she can still hold a long, high note and crack a good, old joke. From her opening ice-breaker, confidently stating that she’s been doing her part to keep the world’s second oldest profession going for 59 years, to short anecdotes about Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Cohen, and others, she’s got wisdom to crack for the rest of us. Collins joined us in New York City at the Café Carlyle to celebrate life, the city, and to share her own love letter to the cabaret room classic, Stephen Sondheim, whose impact on musical theater has been as special as Collins on music across genres.

Starting with “I woke up, it was a Chelsea morning/and the first thing I heard was a song outside my window” from the Joni Mitchell classic “Chelsea Morning” that Collins released as a single in 1969, she soon shifted into some of her favorite Sondheim songs. (Perhaps coming from outside the window in Chelsea wouldn’t be a strange place to hear them.
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) She hit soaring notes on great lines from a variety of his musicals, such as “Sometimes people leave you/halfway through the wood” from Sondheim’s “No One Is Alone” (Into the Woods) and “How can you remain staring at the rain/maddened by the stars?” from his “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street). Her clear and crisp articulation, especially when going for ever higher notes, surely remains a bar above the starlets I saw at the Barrow Street Theatre’s Sweeney Todd last year.

A consummate professional (and though admittedly rarely a songwriter during her career), Collins did share a couple of her originals. Thanking Sondheim for, and talking a little bit about the background of, West Side Story, she launched into an excellent (though only related by name) song called “Maria” about immigration and the Dreamers, espousing her classic willfulness to take a stand: “My name is Maria/ My daughter is a dreamer/ She says that she is worried that she will have to leave.” Then later, she asked her thrillingly effective pianist/music director, Russell Walden, to step aside so that she could show off her own whirl of keys and fingers on the piano for her own song called “The Blizzard.” Her softness on the words “Colorado, Colorado/ When the world leaves you shivering” were matched well by the warmth at which she implored, “There’s a light in the window and a place called home/ At the end of the storm.”

By the time Collins’ guitar strumming and jokes neared the end, she saw it fitting to leave us with one last Sondheim staple, after a first encore of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” A fitting choice to mirror her sense of humor, “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music was just what we needed. Pausing for a moment after “I thought that you’d want what I want/Sorry, my dear/And where are the clowns?/Quick, send in the clowns,” she smiled mischievously, and chuckled, “Don’t bother, they’re here.
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” For quips about functionally dysfunctional families, reminders of how good life can be just by knowing good people, and plenty of laughs, Collins is your gal. Oh, and she sings, too, if you didn’t know.

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see StruckChris.com