Last March a few thousand people were lucky enough to experience the truly staggering Sondheim birthday celebration at the New York Philharmonic. Many who saw it (most?) judged it one of the most thrilling evenings they had ever spent in a theatre (I was one of those fortunate people). And now, through the miracle of modern technology, that amazing event can be revisited, over and over again, forever.
I was a tad nervous putting the disc in the DVD player. Could the recording possibly live up to my memory of the event? No. But yes. No, because live is live, and there is nothing like it. But yes, because the pictures and sound are clear and vivid, because the beauty of the performances has been captured, and because I am so grateful that this wonderful record of this wonderful evening exists! I am old enough to remember life before DVDs, before video recordings, before cable. I remember setting my alarm clock for two in the morning to catch a show or movie that might never be on again. I remember trying to memorize live performances, knowing that there might not even be an album. I do not take this DVD for granted.
If forced at gunpoint to identify my favorite performances, I might be able to get it down to a handful:
- Marin Mazzie: "Losing My Mind."
- John McMartin: "The Road You Didn't Take."
- Bernadette Peters: "Not a Day Goes By."
- Mandy Patinkin: "Finishing the Hat."
- Scores of Broadway performers: "Sunday."
Of course, the event wasn't, and the DVD isn't, perfect. Producer-director-writer Lonnie Price, as he always does, littered the show with juvenile, downright-painful gags and running "jokes." And some of his editing choices are flat-out annoying, as when he cuts to the orchestra during "Losing My Mind," a delicate song of subtle build during which Mazzie's nonsinging moments are as important as her singing ones. Or when he interrupts the flow of the dancing in "America" with odd and awkward and all-too-frequent cuts. But if Price's weaknesses are the price (pun unintended?) of getting to enjoy an event and a DVD this wonderful, they are a small enough price (hmm) to pay.
Thanks are owed to producers Ellen M. Krass Productions and Thirteen, in association with WNET.org, for giving us this precious DVD. It would be nice if there were some extras, but, really, it's a treasure.
Oh, and I did I mention that that Sondheim guy is brilliant?