Among the many 80th birthday tributes to Broadway tunesmith Stephen Sondheim is a new musical revue -- "Sondheim on Sondheim" -- that opened to mixed reviews Thursday. This is the third such show saluting Sondheim to come to the rialto over the years. This time around, video interviews with the birthday boy are interspersed among performances from his songbook.
A trio of talent is top-billed in "Sondheim on Sondheim." This is the first regular run on Broadway for celebrated chanteuse Barbara Cook since the early 1970s. Cook won the featured actress award for her role as Marian the librarian in 1958's Tony-winning tuner "The Music Man."
Also raising their voices in song are two other musical veterans -- Vanessa Williams and Tom Wopat. This is only the third Broadway appearance for Grammy and Emmy nominee Williams, who nabbed a lead actress Tony nomination for the 2002 revival of Sondheim's "Into the Woods." Wopat -- best known for TV's "The Dukes of Hazzard" -- is a two-time Tony nominee for his lead roles in the musicals "Annie Get Your Gun" (1999) and "A Catered Affair" (2008). The rest of the ensemble includes Euan Morton, a 2004 best actor Tony nominee for "Taboo," as well as Drama Desk nominees Leslie Kritzer and Norm Lewis.
The previous two Sondheim musical tributes both contended at the Tony Awards. In 1977, "Side by Side by Sondheim" contended for five awards, including best musical (it lost to "Annie") and four featured performers. The more recent revue --"Putting It Together" in 2000 -- landed lead actor George Hearn a nomination; he lost to Brian Stokes Mitchell for "Kiss Me Kate."
Stephen Sondheim has won eight Tonys over the years plus a lifetime achievement award in 2008 that he declined to accept in person. The Roundabout Theatre, which is producing "Sondheim on Sondheim," recently announced it is renaming a Broadway theater (the Henry Miller) for him. The nonprofit theater has presented revivals of many of his Tony-winning musicals over the years. Funding for the gift came from an anonymous group of benefactors who gave an undisclosed amount to the company's musical production fund.
Photo: "Sondheim on Sondheim" playbill. Credit: Roundabout Theatre Company.