The first amazing thing about this recording, made at Carnegie Hall on December 9, 1996, is that it represents the New York concert debut of a performer who made her Broadway stage debut more than 28 years earlier and has long since become a major musical comedy star, known for her appearances in such shows as Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, and The Goodbye Girl. Bernadette Peters was 48 years old at the time of this recording, but she retained the charming, childlike quality she had always brought to her work, as well as the authority that comes with decades of experience. Both were necessary to bring off a show largely devoted to the emotionally complicated work of songwriter Stephen Sondheim, author or co-author of 12 of the 15 tracks, especially since Peters chose such a wide range of material, notably the Into the Woods songs "No One Is Alone," "Hello, Little Girl," and "Any Moment," none of which she had sung in the musical. Peters did recall her long career, however, especially in a powerful performance of "Time Heals Everything" from Mack & Mabel, in which she starred. In her stage remarks, shorn of a character to play, she turned out to be funny and appealing. The final trio of songs (all by Sondheim) could hardly be improved: "Not a Day Goes By" (to which Peters gave the definitive reading) suggests you can't live with a relationship; "Being Alive" suggests you can't live without one; and "Move On" (which Peters sang in Sunday in the Park with George) suggests that life presents broader considerations. Performed before a wildly enthusiastic audience, Sondheim, Etc. is a triumphant debut worthy of an encore.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann