One fact has been indisputable for the past 20 years: No single tribute concert can ever completely sum up the breadth and depth of Stephen Sondheim’s unparalleled musical output. Nonetheless, Take Me to the World, originally presented on April 26 by Broadway.com (and still available on YouTube) – designed to honor belatedly the composer’s 90th birthday – was a beautifully chosen sampler. The two-hour-plus event not only highlighted both the intricacies and simplicity of Sondheim’s oeuvre; more importantly, it reminded us that, no matter whichever decade these songs were written, so many of them speak directly to what’s happening in our world today.
Choosing favorites among the star-studded list of performers, each of whom obviously gave great thought to both their selection and their interpretation, is a bit of a fool’s game, and I suspect each viewer will make their own choices. Still, for me, it was equally wonderful to watch some people revisit their previous onstage triumphs, such as Chip Zien’s stirring “No More” and Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford’s incredibly moving “Move On,” as it was to view these actors’ completely unexpected choices, such as Elizabeth Stanley’s magnificently dreamy “The Miller’s Son,” Patti LuPone’s quietly introspective “Anyone Can Whistle” and host Raul Esparza’s soaring “Take Me to the World.”
The concert was, admittedly, a bit ballad-heavy, but can anyone blame an ageless-looking Bernadette Peters for choosing – and hitting out of the park – “No One Is Alone” or Judy Kuhn for using her sublime instrument to heart-wrenching effect on the underappreciated “What Can You Lose”? Standing out among the standouts, Donna Murphy’s ultra-poignant take on the classic “Send in the Clowns” was yet another swift kick to the heart (and a definitive reason to revive “A Little Night Music” the second that Broadway reopens). Feeling bad never felt so good!
The few lighter-hearted moments scored even more points simply for their scarcity, but were no less accomplished, from Kelli O’Hara’s joyful “What More Do I Need?” to the tremendous trio of Meryl Streep (complete with shaking cocktail shaker), Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald making a full meal out of the scathing “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Indeed, like all of the artists who donated their time and talents to the event (which benefitted ASTEP), these ladies were sublime company!