The Stephen Sondheim Album
"How do you come out of numbingly humble beginnings and get to be... me?"
- Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
- Produced by Bruce Kimmel
- Conducted by Todd Ellison
- Orchestrations by David Siegel with Brad Ellis
principal Singers and Their Songs
- Brent Barrett, "Make the Most of Your Music"
- Jane Krakowski, "Anyone Can Whistle"
- Liz Callaway, "Everybody Says Don't"
- Guy Haines, "Sorry/Grateful"
- Alice Ripley, "Another Hundred People"
- Lea Delaria, "Broadway Baby"
- Michele Pawk, "It Wasn't Meant to Happen"
- Brian D'Arcy James, "Giants in the Sky"
- Ruthie Henshall, "Children Will Listen"
- Dame Edna, "Losing My Mind"
- Theresa Finamore and Andrew Lippa, "A Moment with You"
- Tami Tappan, "So Many People"
- Christiane Noll, "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow"/"Not a Day Goes By"
- Dorothy Loudon, "I'm Still Here"
- Norm Lewis, "With So Little to Be Sure Of"/"Who Could Be Blue?"
- Emily Skinner, "I Must Be Dreaming"
- Eydie Alyson, Juliana A. Hansen, and Tami Tappan, "Getting Married Today"
The Stephen Sondheim Album was the first offering of Fynsworth Alley, Bruce Kimmel's new record label. Long the producer at Varabese Sarabande (which is no longer publishing Broadway CDs), Kimmel was personally responsible for nine previous albums of Sondheim material. Given the sheer number of Sondheim-related collections available, you might be asking what Dame Edna asked when Kimmel approached her about appearing on the album: "But possum, why would anyone do another Sondheim collection?" (Well, you wouldn't likely phrase it that way, but you get the idea.) Kimmel's justification is that he started the VS Spotlight Series with Unsung Sondheim, so it was "serendipitous" to begin Fynsworth Alley the same way; that it was Sondheim's 70th birthday; and that Kimmel "wanted to gather together some of Broadway's best to sing some Sondheim songs that they perhaps hadn't had the opportunity to do before."
Whatever the reasoning, this is a damn fine album with many worthwhile performances and interesting interpretations of splendid songs. (Is that a sufficiency of adjectives for you?) Some are "time-worn" in the sense that they get sung more often than not on tribute and compilation albums, like "Losing My Mind," "Anyone Can Whistle," and the inevitable (but always welcome) "I'm Still Here." Most, however, are either lesser-covered songs, like "Make the Most of Your Music," which as far as I know has appeared only on the London cast recording of Follies; several songs from Saturday Night; "I Must Be Dreaming" from All That Glitters, one of Sondheim's journeyman works when Oscar Hammerstein II charged him with writing three musicals; and "Giants in the Sky," which I can't recall ever appearing on a compilation before. [Note that "I Must Be Dreaming" is only available on discs obtained directly from Fynsworth Alley.]
Standouts for me: "Make the Most of Your Music," which, aside from being uncommon, is one of Sondheim's more positive and life-affirming songs when stripped of its ironic context; Lea Delaria's lazy-summer-night lounge-lizard version of "Broadway Baby"; the long version of "Children Will Listen," which is a pretty darn good (and heartrending) set of lyrics about shades-of-gray parenting for a guy who doesn't have any rugrats of his own; Dorothy Loudon's slow, triumphant "I'm Still Here," which is one of the superior versions of this song; Norm Lewis's welded song pair, which he sings impeccably; and the hidden track not listed anywhere on the CD, except as a credit for "The Hidden Trio." It takes forever to get to the hidden track, BTW; be patient and don't pop the CD out, it's worth the wait. (It comes after about 2 minutes of total silence and isn't its own track.) "The Hidden Trio's" Andrews Sisters-type version of "Getting Married Today" is one of the best slow versions of that song I've ever heard.
I personally didn't care for Alice Ripley's "Another Hundred People," but then, I'm very partial to the original and have never heard another version that I liked half as much. And whereas I thought all the women had lovely voices, the younger ones tended to sound the same (especially Ripley and Skinner, but well, we all know why). One of the reasons that Sondheim's albums work so well (one among many) is that the women all sound very distinctive. Stritch doesn't sound like Howland doesn't sound like McKechnie doesn't sound like Myers.... you get the point.
By far the most controversial song on this album is Dame Edna's, um, Dame Edna-ish version of "Losing My Mind." Someone in the Sondheim Review really slammed it, and most of the response I've seen in other reviews has been lukewarm. Well, let me put my two cents in for the version; it's irreverent, reasonably funny, and a nice contrast to the rest of the material. Dame Edna did a better job on "The Ladies Who Lunch" on Sondheim Tonight, but this is an amusing change of pace.
The booklet is chattier and more interesting than most compilation booklets, with a long intro by Bruce Kimmel; a longer essay about Sondheim music and critical reaction to it by Alvin Klein, who writes on the arts for the New York Times; mug shots of all the singers (with Guy Haines' usual covered face); and thank-yous. There are technical details on the back of the booklet and a song list on the back of the CD case. Brief bios of the singers would have been nice.
I probably have a higher tolerance than most people for Sondheim compilations, but this one is particularly good and features a ton of notable singers. If nothing else, it would be a terrific starter disc to introduce new or casual musical theatre fans to Sondheim's phenomenal songwriting abilities. There's enough originality in the arrangements and star power among the singers to please existing aficionados as well.
All non-lyric material copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
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