There's been a lot of Stephen Sondheim's music offered up this year as he celebrates his 80th birthday. The most lasting gift for his fans could very well turn out to be the original cast recording of Sondheim on Sondheim (PS Classics), the revue that played at Roundabout Theatre Company's Studio 54 this year. Transferred to disc with care and taste by producer Tommy Krasker, the show seems almost jewel-like now, offering up an intimate portrait of not only Sondheim's music, but also the songwriter himself.
Assembled by director James Lapine, the show interspersed musical numbers with video clips of Sondheim discussing his life and career. The latter have been extracted as sound clips for the cast recording and while you listen to the CDs, it's a little like the songwriter has pulled up a chair to have a one-on-one conversation with you.
Perhaps equally notable, the album preserves some sequences that were dropped during the piece's previews, including Euan Morton and Matthew Scott's exuberant medley of "Talent" (from Road Show/Bounce) and "When I Get Famous" (which Sondheim wrote for the unproduced Climb High while he was a student studying with Milton Babbitt in 1951). Other songs, like "Forget War" (written for A Funny Thing... but not used), were cut in half during previews, but have been restored to full length for the CD.
Alongside these numbers are revisitations to Sondheim standards, including Barbara Cook's stunning "Take Me to the World" (from the television musical Evening Primrose), her equally moving rendition of "Send in the Clowns" and Norm Lewis' heartfelt "Being Alive." Additionally, Vanessa Williams and Tom Wopat shine when delivering "So Many People" (from Saturday Night) and Scott fills "Multitudes of Amys" (another unused song from Company) with passion.
And when these familiar songs are heard alongside the less familiar ones, which also include "The Wedding Is Off" (an unused song for Company) and Smile, Girls (a dropped number from Gypsy), the disc becomes a grand snapshot of the songwriter's career, demonstrating, almost beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he might not have needed to be so tongue-in-cheek with the new song on the disc...the one in which he's compared to "God."