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Youmans: Sondheim gets silly and informative

July 19, 2012|By Heather Youmans
  • Stephen Sondheim, left, and Michael Kerker.
Stephen Sondheim, left, and Michael Kerker. (Doug Gifford )

Musical theater connoisseurs who had hoped to see "Stephen Sondheim: In Conversation" last October filled the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa on July 13 for the rescheduled event.

Previously, the legendary Broadway composer and lyricist was unable to travel to Orange County because of a snow storm in the New York area. This time around, he arrived hassle-free.

Throughout the evening, Michael Kerker lent his expertise as director of musical theater at ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers). He posed insightful questions, which Sondheim, 82, answered with poise.

Mixed in with the discussion were performances of lesser known Stephen Sondheim songs by Tony Award-winning performers Christine Ebersole and Brian Stokes Mitchell — who were kind enough to return for the second go-around. The duo was accompanied by pianist Ted Firth, who didn't miss a note.

Musical selections for the evening included the following: "Were Gonna Be Alright" ("Company"), "The Little Things You Do Together" ("Company"),"It Would've Been Wonderful" ("A Little Night Music"), "I Never Do Anything Twice" (from the film "The Seven Percent Solution"), "Pretty Women" ("Sweeny Todd"),"I'm Still Here"("Follies"),"Finishing the Hat" ("Follies"), and "Move On" ("Sunday in the Park with George").

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Sondheim had a pensive expression on his face as he listened to his compositions. Occasionally, he chuckled at his own punch lines and pointed his finger to signal the musical accents. And at the end of each piece, he smiled giddily like a proud father.

Ebersole brilliantly executed Sondheim's lyrical wit and Stokes Mitchell's voice was sweeter than ever. However, music stands and sheet music hindered their stage presence.

Then again, what performer would be brave enough to abandon their sheet music when singing complex Sondheim tunes in front of the master composer himself?

Needless to say, the ultimate highlight of the evening was Sondheim's responses to Kerker's questions.

Sondheim spoke of his ventures with mentor Oscar Hammerstein II, whom he met at age 11. Hammerstein taught him to think of songs as little one act plays that move characters from point A to point B.

When he first started writing professionally as a lyricist and composer, Sondheim collaborated with Burt Shevelove, librettist of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

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