The Musicality of Sondheim

Various Artists

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The Musicality of Sondheim Review

by William Ruhlmann

The British Jay Records label has compiled a catalog of studio cast recordings of vintage stage musicals, along with some cast recordings of stage revivals and individual artist albums of show tunes, which enables it to repackage that material in various ways. The series called The Musicality Of presents albums devoted to musical theater songwriters ranging from old masters such as Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter to more contemporary ones including Andrew Lloyd Webber and the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb. This edition, focusing on Stephen Sondheim, gathers together 12 songs from 12 different projects, among them ten Broadway musicals, a television musical ("I Remember" from Evening Primrose), and a movie (the Academy Award-winning "Sooner or Later" from Dick Tracy). Sondheim is noted for his lyrical wit and musical complexity, but the intention here seems to be to emphasize his melodic and romantic appeal. There are only brief glimpses of his wordplay and humor among these songs, most of them ballads. Also, the compilers seem to be attempting to make the case for Sondheim as a writer of simple romantic fare without resorting to some of his best-known songs in that area; the hits "Send in the Clowns" and "Losing My Mind" are missing, for example. The closest thing to a Sondheim standard here is probably "Being Alive," the climactic song from Company, in which the hero declares his readiness for romantic commitment. And there are some outright obscurities, the best example being "Honey," a song written for but cut from Merrily We Roll Along, a show that itself is rarely produced. The performers, many of them West End veterans, are uniformly impressive, and the album manages to make its case, even if Sondheim fans will think of it as presenting the composer/lyricist with one hand tied behind his back.

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