Josh Groban, Nathan Lane and Jake Gyllenhaal were among the performers to honour composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim in an online 90th birthday concert that was stuffed with his songs, but delayed by technical difficulties.
The starry special, called Take Me To The World, featured performances by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kelli O’Hara, Lea Salonga, Judy Kuhn, Katrina Lenk, Aaron Tveit, Laura Benanti, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters, who closed out the show with a triumphant version of No One Is Alone without any accompanying music.
Sondheim actually turned 90 on March 22, but plans to celebrate were taken online after Broadway shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Meryl Streep, Audra MacDonald and Christine Barnaski singing Sondheim over Zoom in their bathrobes is, and I can not stress this enough, the ultimate mood. #sondheim90concert pic.twitter.com/261pNlhot1
— Mel Woods 🌈🌾 (@intothemelwoods) April 27, 2020
The celebration on Sunday night coincided with the 50th anniversary of the opening of Sondheim’s Broadway show Company, and served as a fundraiser for Artists Striving to End Poverty.
Sutton Foster was the first to sing, picking There Won’t Be Trumpets, with her young daughter, Emily, wishing Sondheim a happy birthday at the end.
Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald and Meryl Streep each downed glasses of booze to team up for a raucous version of The Ladies Who Lunch.
Neil Patrick Harris sang The Witch’s Rap, and thanked Sondheim, saying: “He made me love theatre, he made me love music, he made me love rhythm.”
Harris’ children also played a role in the performance, bowing at the end.
Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame spoke of being challenged by the composer, while Annaleigh Ashford and Gyllenhaal reunited for a song from their 2017 Broadway partnership, the Sondheim revival of Sunday In The Park With George.
One of the best things about the performances on #Sondheim90Concert is that they’re a reminder that theatrical magic isn’t just in the theater; it’s in the people, often practicing in their homes, selling the hell out of a number to no one but the mirror for years.
— R. Eric Thomas (@oureric) April 27, 2020
There was a duet from Beanie Feldstein and Ben Platt, who sang It Takes Two.
Victor Garber recalled being enraptured upon hearing Johanna from Sweeney Todd for the first time.
In a video from a field with his dog, Mandy Patinkin said of Sondheim: “He simply turns my darkness into light.”
There was an intimate vibe to the event, with many musicians and singers dressed in T-shirts, minimal makeup and in front of simple backdrops.
“I’ve got to go make dinner,” said Melissa Errico confessed after singing Children and Art.
Starting fashionably late, the tribute kicked off on YouTube more than an hour after the announced start time.
Flag Song was the original opening to Assassins. The idea was all these onlookers would watch the President go by. And little by little the assassins would appear in the crowd, slowly replacing them. Chills. #Sondheim90Concert
— Raúl E. Esparza (@RaulEEsparza) April 27, 2020
It was hosted and produced by Raul Esparza, who starred in the Tony Award-winning revival of Company in 2006. Esparza blamed the tardiness on technical difficulties, tweeting: “The curtain always goes up late on opening night.”
Sondheim’s shows include Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music. He also worked alongside Leonard Bernstein as a lyricist for West Side Story.
Steven Spielberg honoured Sondheim’s knowledge of film and thanked him for helping on the filmmaker’s upcoming version of West Side Story.
— Ira Madison III (@ira) April 27, 2020
“For me it was like going back to school and meeting my most favourite professor,” Spielberg said.
Lane, a frequent collaborator, joked that the oft-celebrated Sondheim was “an unsung hero” of the American theatre.
“Here’s my little show business adage for this evening: If at all possible, try to work with a genius,” Lane said.
“They’re fun. They’re smart. They’re inspiring and they tend to bring out the best in you. And that’s the kind of genius Steve is.”