Mardie Millit & Michael Garin: Sorry-Grateful: One Sondheim Story in Letters and Song

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Mardie Millit & Michael Garin

Sorry-Grateful: One Sondheim Story in Letters and Song

The Laurie Beechman Theatre, NYC, May 15, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Mardie Millit and Michael Garin

Since Stephen Sondheim’s passing in 2021, tribute shows have been abundant in the cabaret world—abundant to the point of redundancy and ennui. If only someone would come up with a truly unique approach and a surprising collection of songs interest might be renewed. Mardie Millit and her husband Michael Garin have indeed created a new and very personal tale linked to some of Sondheim’s less-performed works. Sorry-Grateful: One Sondheim Story in Letter and Song related the lengthy epistolary relationship between singer Millit and Sondheim, which began when she was still a student and he had yet to be recognized as the landmark musical theater presence he became.

The show kicked off with the truly appropriate “The Little Things You Do Together” (all songs are by Sondheim unless otherwise noted) as the couple zinged the lyrics back and forth between them. They were clearly very comfortable together and definitely very funny. The title tune followed, featuring a beautiful piano arrangement by Garin that added a great deal of emotion to the performance. Millet has a lovely soprano voice reminiscent of Shirley Jones and of the comic sensibility of Carol Burnett. The couple were guided by their director, the excellent Eric Michael Gillett, and the show reflected his fine theatrical flair.

The friendship between fan and songwriter began when a bright but awkward teen discovered the cast recording of Anyone Can Whistle and immediately identified with it. Millit gave a lovely and simple interpretation of that show’s title tune. She sent Sondheim a fan letter; much to her surprise he wrote back, and they continued to exchange letters for many years. Her world was filled with people who didn’t offer any encouragement, as reflected in “Everybody Says Don’t,” which shew sang with enormous conviction. Sondheim arranged for her to audition for Merrily We Roll Along although she was too young to be cast. Their unique friendship was celebrated with a song cut from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (“I Do Like You”) sung in duet with Garin and blended with “It’s You I Like” (Fred Rogers).

Garin then took center stage for a bit, first with a Motown-styled  arrangement of “Losing My Mind” blended with “Stop! In the Name of Love” (Lamont Dozier & Brian and Eddie Holland). Then, he chose a song from the list Sondheim had compiled some years ago of songs he wished he had written. One was “Hard Hearted Hannah” (Jack Yellen/Bob Bigelow/Charles Bates & Milton Ager), which Garin amusingly pointed out had a perceived resemblance to “Broadway Baby.” In addition to his skilled command of the piano and inventive arrangements, Garin had a pleasant if unpolished voice.

Millit took center stage—“Anyway, back to me”—and spoke beautifully of the frustrations suffered during the Covid pandemic (“I Remember”) and the renewal that came afterwards to introduce “Take Me to the World” and “Our Time,” joined together for maximum emotional impact. This medley was a quiet portion of the show; it was never maudlin but it had much feeling. Then the inevitable passing of her mentor/friend/correspondent was reflected inh the bittersweet “Goodbye for Now.” To brighten the mood at the end of the show, Millit had great fun with a funky version of “The Ladies Who Lunch” as she mined its trenchant humor and truth. But then humor and truth were abundant throughout this wonderful evening.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."

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