Six by Sondheim, a documentary that debuts on HBO on Monday, December 9th, looks at six of Stephen Sondheim’s landmark songs:
“Something’s Coming” from West Side Story
“Opening Doors” from Merrily We Roll Along
“Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music
“I’m Still Here” from Follies
“Being Alive” from Company
and “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George
It includes extensive interviews with Sondheim. There is old film footage going back half a century, including Ethel Merman performing “Gypsy,” and performances by Bernadette Peters, Mandy Patinkin,Dean Jones, Yvonne De Carlo and Larry Kert. Three of the songs are given new interpretations. Darren Criss, America Ferrera, Jeremy Jordan and Sondheim himself (sort of) perform “Opening Doors.”
Audra McDonald sings “Send in the Clowns,” after (an odd highlight) a series of Youtube versions of that song.
The director of the film is James Lapine, and the producer is Frank Rich, former chief theater critic of the New York Times, who this week writes about his half century as “young fan; critic and “enemy”; and, by now, old friend” with the musical theater composer, in The Sondheim Puzzle
Among the tidbits in the documentary:
Sondheim says he’s never written a lyric without first drinking some alcohol (not to the point of inebriation, just…lubrication.)
He wrote “I’m Still Here” thinking of the career of Joan Crawford.
He wrote “Send in the Clowns,” by far his most popular song, with lots of pauses so that Glynis Johns (whose voice, let’s say, didn’t have the staying power of an opera singer) could catch her breath while singing it.