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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

BEST OF THE DECADE: 10 FAVORITE SONDHEIM REVIVALS

Another decade, another plethora of Sondheim shows! While we all wait for a new Sondheim show (PLEASE, STEVE!), there certainly hasn't been a lack of his works to enjoy. Over the past ten years, we saw 14 productions on and off Broadway and regionally - a small drop in the bucket, I know. Nonetheless, here are our 10 favorites of those we did see. NOTE: We didn't include any shows we saw where he contributed lyrics only.




Best of the Decade:
Jeff and Mike's 10 Favorite
Sondheim Revivals


10. Merrily We Roll Along (Encores!)
Any chance to see the long troubled, often revised show done at all is an opportunity we can't miss. And when you have a full orchestra and a cast headed by the likes of Colin Donnell, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Lin-Manuel Miranda, you be a fool to miss it. Well, it was great to see it, even if it didn't really break any new ground.








9. Passion (Classic Stage Company - Off-Broadway)
Here's another difficult show that suffers from its reputation as a difficult show and the landmark performances of Donna Murphy and Marin Mazzie. This production, helmed by John Doyle (read: minimalist) and starring then-new guy Ryan Silverman, Melissa Errico and the incomparable Judy Kuhn as Fosca, felt fresh and vibrant in ways that the original felt leaden.







8. Into the Woods (Roundabout - Off-Broadway)
Speaking of minimalist! A cast of 9, using minimal costumes, props and instruments as scenery did feel like it was straining to break free from its self-imposed constraints occasionally, but the Fiasco Theater company knows what it is doing. They found great ways to be creative, finding new treasures in a treasure-filled piece. We enjoyed this trip to "ever after."







7. Merrily We Roll Along (Roundabout - Off-Broadway)
Fiasco Theater was two-for-two for us. This time the cast numbered 6, and the same creativity with props and costumes worked to clever results. Also, this time, an effort was made to re-work the show, streamlining it and interpolating things from previous editions. While Merrily wasn't completely fixed, it may be the one closest to "right" we've seen. Who knew there'd be two major revivals of this show in the last 10 years?







6. Assassins (Signature Theatre - Regional)
Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia is one of our favorite regional theaters. They are so consistent, they try difficult pieces, new and old, and have a decades long relationship with the master. Their recent production of this very timely show was perfectly cast and hugely entertaining. And they didn't shy away from the political ramifications, either. 







5. Pacific Overtures (Classic Stage Company - Off-Broadway)
This is a show of Sondheim's that is rarely done, and one where I really did not enjoy the cast recording without having seen the show. I know this production was a love/hate thing for theater fans, but I was enthralled from start to finish. I'm not sure I breathed. I adored the orchestrations and vocal arrangements. It was nice to see George Takei, and of course, I reveled in Ann Harada's all too brief role. I'm still ticked that no recording was made of this! On the up side, now the cast recording I do have isn't nearly as off putting as it was.







4. Passion (Signature Theatre - Regional)
Uniquely elegant staging and a clear focus from director Mathew Gardiner and powerhouse performances from Steffanie Leigh (Clara), Claybourne Elder (Giorgio) and Natascia Diaz (Fosca) made this one of the best performances of this work we've seen.







3. Sunday in the Park with George (Broadway)
Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford gave thrilling, occasionally heartbreaking performances in this pared down revival. Somehow, that less is more approach actually made this production even more beautiful. And, from the balcony, we gt to see the full effect of the stunning Chromolume. Never really one of my favorite Sondheim shows, this version pretty much changed my mind!







2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Off-Broadway)
I adore this show, and have seen it many times in many venues. I've come to develop high standards for every production, and this immersive, small scale production exceeded my every expectation. Sure it is clever - even gimmicky - to be in a pie shop, sitting at tables. But having a razor-wielding Sweeney Todd literally inches from your face growling his epiphany directly to you is nothing less than terrifying. Hugh Panaro was chilling, and Carolee Carmello, maybe the best Mrs. Lovett I've ever seen, was deliciously wicked. Good luck to the next Sweeney we see.





1. Follies (Broadway)
Here's another show that was new to me, and another that faced an uphill battle in earning my adoration. My prior exposure was limited to the hideous original cast production. I loved it from the moment I took my seat and watched the ghosts gliding around the set. As mentioned in our earlier musical revivals list, we loved the entire company, and were incredibly moved by what we saw. Both times.








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