Suddenly Sondheim

My wife and I are semi-fanatical on the subject of Stephen Sondheim. We’ve seen practically all of his peerless musicals, many more than once. When I heard that Cyrille Aimee, a favorite of Jonathan Schwartz on his WNYC program (now so ably occupied by Paul Cavalconte), would be performing Sondheim at the new, upscale My Father’s Place at the posh Roslyn Hotel, it seemed like a perfect night out – and it was.

A chanteuse born in France but now living in New Orleans (after a decade in New York), Aimee totally reimagines Sondheim. With a youthful quartet led by trumpeter Wayne Tucker, she experiences the songs through the prism of jazz. Even a song like “Losing My Mind” ascends into ebullient scat singing.  

Having had little experience with musical theater in France, she’s become an ardent student of Sondheim and includes French-accented introductions to the songs in her set.   Though she covers many mainstays, some are fairly obscure, like selections from the 1966 TV production “Evening Primrose.” You can hear for yourself on her new album, “Move On: A Sondheim Adventure.”

Aimee has company among Sondheim devotees. The Manhasset native and Broadway leading lady Melissa Errico has performed in several Sondheim productions, including “Do I Hear a Waltz?,” “Passion” and “Sunday in the Park with George.” After spotlighting Sondheim in cabaret performances in 2017-2018, she released “Sondheim Sublime” last fall. It’s a more traditional take than Cyrille Aimee, but her pure, clear soprano serves the songs beautifully. (And if you’re a fan of pure sopranos, don’t forget Judy Collins, whose version of “Send in the Clowns” was a bona fide hit back in 1975. She recorded it again, along with nine other classics, in the 2017 album, “A Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim.”)

An unconventional, albeit oft-criticized, example of the Sondheim canon is “Merrily We Roll Along,” which he and George Furth adapted from the 1934 comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.  Its backward-in-time structure has proved troubling for many (the original 1981 Broadway production only lasted for 52 previews and 16 performances), but it contains one of Sondheim’s most appealing scores, including “Not a Day Goes By,” “Old Friends,” and “Our Time.”

The Roundabout Theatre has revived “Merrily We Roll Along” in a production by the Fiasco Theatre company. Using Fiasco’s formula for stripping down classics, the current production reduces the cast from the original 13 to six, but they are superbly talented singers, actors, and dancers who do justice to the material. It’s well worth giving it a visit at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, where it runs until April 14.

Finally, there’s an episode of the satirical IFC series “Documentary Now!”  which aired in February and is grist for true Sondheim fans.  John Mulaney and Seth Meyers combine with composer Eli Bolin to spoof the D.A. Pennebaker film of the recording of the original cast album of “Company.” Called “Cast Album: Co-Op,” it’s a delightful pastiche of Sondheim-esque songs delivered by some genuine Broadway talent in just a half-hour. Catch it if you can on demand.

Cynthia Cochrane