WHAT “Sondheim on Sondheim”
WHEN | WHERE 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 29; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, through July 10, BroadHollow’s Bayway Arts Center, 265 Main St., East Islip
TICKETS $28 (advance discounts); 631-581-2700, broadhollow.org
“Sondheim on Sondheim” debuted in 2010, after Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday, conceived by James Lapine, one of many collaborators over his now-62-year career. While it doesn’t answer the question of Sondheim’s deity — he’s God, or at least a god to many devoted appreciators of his craft — the master teases us at the top of Act II with “God,” a 1994 ditty written in response to a New Yorker article asking, “Is Stephen Sondheim God?”
But in taped interviews sprinkled throughout the show — making a rare Long Island appearance in this reverently spirited BroadHollow Theatre Company production at BayWay Arts Center — we see that the winner of every major musical award is more human than we knew.
Nearly every show for which Sondheim by then had written music, lyrics or both are represented (“Pacific Overtures” sadly omitted), including “By George,” which he penned in boarding school. Other obscure pieces — songs that were dropped before opening night — include “Like Everybody Else” (“West Side Story”), three cut from “Company” before he settled on “Being Alive,” and “Love Is in the Air,” an opening dud for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” that Sondheim rescued with “Comedy Tonight.”
Director Annmarie Fabricatore meets the challenge of presenting songs out of context — context being the essence of Sondheim’s genius. Musical director Mary Ellin Kurtz ably syncs the cast to a recorded soundtrack. After Sondheim-on-video describes the difficulty of making “Passion” believable — a homely girl seduces a hunk by the intensity of her ardor — Melanie Lipton delivers an impassioned “Loving You.” Jennifer DeCristofano and Matt Stashin share a sweet duet from 1954’s “Saturday Night” (“my first professional show,” Sondheim recalls) and join Josh Redman, who bears a resemblance to young Sondheim, in “The Gun Song” from “Assassins,” tragically relevant today in its haunting refrain, “All you have to do is pull your little finger.” Stashin returns with “Finishing the Hat” from “Sunday in the Park With George,” capturing a painterly concentration regarding Seurat’s masterpiece that inspired Sondheim’s 1984 ode to art.
“Send in the Clowns,” his greatest crossover hit (from “A Little Night Music”), is sung with melting-heart regrets by Emily Nadler. But the true tear-jerker follows Sondheim’s crushing childhood account that lends devastating new meaning to “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods.” His late mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II, eventually became his father figure and the theater community his family.