The reviews for Sondheim on Sondheim are in and though they adore Barbara Cook and hearing from the man himself, the critics were underwhelmed. It’s a show for folks who worship Sondheim – a crowd that will eat up anything touched by the man – but for those who don’t see him as “God,” the poor arrangements, pacing and heavy-handedness may leave them wanting more.
New York Post
Thank God for Stephen Sondheim. Not just for his songs, but for his running commentary, which punctuates the new revue “Sondheim on Sondheim” at regular intervals. Funny, informative, occasionally self-deprecating and often deeply touching, his insights — shown on moving video screens — have more life than the wan performances onstage. Indeed, even with such skilled interpreters as Barbara Cook and Vanessa Williams on board, the numbers flatline. The visuals are theater, the music is glorified cabaret. Read the full review.
The Wall Street Journal
In addition to being a great songwriter, Stephen Sondheim is the object of a cult, the members of which are gathering nightly at Studio 54 to take part in a religious ceremony disguised as a revue… The handsomely mounted results suggest a cross between a PBS documentary and a lecture-recital and at times are almost as interesting, though the galvanizing presence of Barbara Cook (who is returning to Broadway after a 37-year absence) and the ever-excellent Tom Wopat helps to keep the ball rolling. Read the full review.
New York Times
“Sondheim on Sondheim” … is a chipper, haphazard anthology show that blends live performance of Sondheim songs with archival video footage and taped interviews with Himself. Conceived and directed by James Lapine, Mr. Sondheim’s frequent (and, to me, best) collaborator over the years, this somewhat jittery production never quite finds a sustained tone, a natural rhythm or even a logical sense of sequence. It does, however, have a polished and likable eight-member cast (that includes Tom Wopat, Vanessa Williams and the great Barbara Cook); a savory selection of Sondheim material that never made it to Broadway as well as canonic standards; and heaping spoonfuls of insider dope about the creation of shows like “Company” and “Follies” and the changes they underwent on the road. And then there is Mr. Sondheim, who appears in appropriately larger-than-life form on artistically arranged monitors, typically concealing as much as he reveals in quick takes of self-portraiture. Read the full review.
Unfortunately, much of the show’s first act borders on the offensive in the way it often features annoying too-cute medleys and otherwise ill-reconceived approaches to Sondheim’s work. In the considerably better second act, however, the singers are allowed to warble most of their gorgeous material in a more rewarding fashion. Cook — whose glorious soprano is marked nowadays by tarnished glory — delivers “In Buddy’s Eyes” and “Send in the Clowns” as if giving a master-class in the art of music-comedy interpretation… For many audience members, Sondheim talking about himself — easily and articulately as it happens – is the show’s major selling-point. Read the full review.
Time Out New York
Is it a live PBS documentary about Stephen Sondheim, with vocal illustrations? Or is it a revue of Sondheim’s peerless catalog, with annotations from the author? And if the latter, is it meant to proselytize to neophytes, or to preach to Sondheim’s existing congregation? Some of the show…seems clearly aimed at the cognoscenti… On the other hand, if the show is being pitched to those best equipped to catch it, then what can explain some of the cheesier industrial-style staging and college-singing-group arrangements—or, for that matter, the central casting?… Frustrations notwithstanding, Sondheim on Sondheim remains an enjoyable evening at the theater. Read the full review.
New York Magazine
Have you ever been to an office retirement bash, one of those extravaganzas set up for a company’s beloved founder?… Well, blow that event up to Broadway scale, and you get Sondheim on Sondheim, a celebration of the musical theater’s greatest composer and lyricist. It’s a light revue assembled by his longtime collaborator James Lapine, one in which the composer himself introduces most of the songs, VH1 Storytellers style, in onscreen snippets projected behind the performers. If you are even slightly inclined toward Sondheimianism, you will find yourself comfy and cozy here, but you won’t be challenged much either. If you’re a hater, you will likely find yourself only partway persuaded of his greatness. And if you’re really deep into the cult, you’ve heard all the anecdotes before—but I doubt that you’ll mind one more go-around. Read the full review.
Los Angeles Times
Barbara Cook brings her shimmering timelessness to “Sondheim on Sondheim,” a full-scale (if seldom full-throttle) celebration of our greatest living musical theater songwriter…Conceived and directed by James Lapine…this latest salute is a peculiar hybrid, part video documentary, part elegantly mounted revue. But basically, it’s an entertainment for hard-core Sondheim fanatics who would rather hear the Ethel Merman song that was cut from “Gypsy” than the classic numbers that remain. If you’re a connoisseur of the more obscure reaches of the catalog and thrill at the prospect of getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the music by the master himself, this is the show for you. Read the full review.
The Associated Press
There are a lot of wonderful moments, some intensely personal, in “Sondheim on Sondheim,” the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revelatory revue celebrating Stephen Sondheim’s theatrical career. But nothing quite tops other cast members sitting quietly on stage and listening to Barbara Cook sing “Send in the Clowns.” Cook’s exquisite rendition of Sondheim’s best-known song demonstrates the essence of musical theater: an expert performer capturing the emotional truth found in a perfect blending of words and music. Read the full review.
Musical plays are easy; revues are hard. You still have to satisfy all those pesky Aristotelian needs, but you don’t have story and character to help you out. Fortunately, conceiver-director James Lapine has come up with a fertile premise for “Sondheim on Sondheim”: the great man comes to us. Who wouldn’t want to spend an evening with Broadway’s musical-theater Shakespeare discussing his work and dishing about his experiences? Through the magic of Peter Flaherty’s video design, imaginatively integrated with Beowulf Borritt’s gorgeous abstract set based on rectangular shapes suggestive of Scrabble tiles, “Sondheim” engages and entrances as much through the songwriter’s chatty, intimate patter as through the top-drawer performances of the gifted eight-person cast. The resulting show is wise, warm, witty, and entirely wonderful. Read the full review.