Manni on “Sondheim on Sondheim”

Photo credit: Mark S. Howard

Photo credit: Mark S. Howard

Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Conceived by James Lapine

Directed by Spiro Veloudos
Musical Direction by Jonathan Goldberg
Choreography by Ilyse Robbins

January 15-February 21, 2016
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Review by Travis Manni

(Boston, MA) Stephen Sondheim is a widely cherished American lyricist and composer of countless musicals. His resume is both expansive and impressive, so a man named James Lapine decided to create a biographical show that incorporated musical numbers interspersed with videos of Sondheim talking about his life and influences, and it was ok I guess.

I was running through all the reasons of why this show was an experience I don’t care to repeat. It wasn’t the cast, because all members contributed equally, consistently delivering each musical number as if it were ripped straight from a full production of the shows touched upon. In particular, Leigh Barrett gives a subtly beautiful rendition of “Send in the Clowns” that isn’t overdone and really allows the audience to hear the lyrics afresh.

The set was also pleasing, featuring Broadway-esque lights to create the illusion of three-dimensional TVs to capture projected videos starring Sondheim, which were great. There’s something magical about listening to an artist talk about his art and why it exists. And “God,” the comically charming musical number Sondheim wrote for the show, was an endearing chuckle of tongue in cheek self-love.

So while it makes sense to create a biographical piece in the non-traditional form of a musical, why was Sondheim on Sondheim a bust? Well, it turns out a musical without a plot isn’t compelling. Honestly, a traditional autobiographical book would have been more enjoyable and would allow a reader to skip around to the parts they wanted to read instead of being stuck in, yup, that’s a right, another musical number with no fluid segue. A successful theatrical experience has to create a world that the audience cares about. That’s not to say that Sondheim isn’t a person who we love and makes us laugh, but the sheer lack of a plot for this show makes it quite dull.

If you are a diehard Sondheim fan, you will like this show. If you have seen a handful of his shows and liked them, this musical will be pleasant but scattered with bits of boredom throughout. If you’re like me, a wannabe hipster who thinks Into the Woods is an under-appreciated gem, then you’re going to be glad you learned a few things about the life of a lyrical mastermind but aware that you would’ve survived life not knowing those details if it meant not having to sit through this relentless, three-hour long musical smorgasbord.

Sondheim on Sondheim runs for 2 hours, 40 minutes with one intermission. You can purchase tickets here.

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