REVIEW: I'M STILL HERE (FOLLIES) TAKE ME TO THE WORLD: A SONDHEIM 90TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION!!!

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Providence occurs even in a pandemic. The anticipated event of this Broadway season was to have been the opening night of the New York premiere of the gender-revised version of “Company” on March 22, Stephen Sondheim’s actual birthday. The coronavirus foiled all that. Instead, weeks later, on April 27 — exactly 50 years and one day after the Broadway premiere of the original “Company” — Broadway’s greatest talents, under the producing hand of host Raul Esparza, celebrated the master’s birthday in a live-streamed tribute performance.

The show was as much a testimonial to the enduring power of Sondheim’s work as it was an affirmation of musical theater as part of life as we have known it. Indeed, the title of the show, “Take Me to the World” from Sondheim’s early “Evening Primrose” — a haunting plea for normalcy from a young woman who has been sheltered inside for 13 years — couldn’t be any more metaphorically apt.

After a rocky start (technical difficulties in uploading the live program to platforms Broadway.com and YouTube), the two-hours-and-twenty-minutes-long tribute began fittingly with composer Steven Schwartz on piano with the magisterial prologue from “Follies” followed by the upbeat, brass-laden overture from “Merrily We Roll Along” (with 21 musicians in the Brady-Bunched matrix we now know all too well from Zoom).

The 31 songs that followed, mostly prerecorded by performers from their homes and most with piano or keyboard accompaniment, were skillfully curated into a whole that reflected the temper of the times. And the collective performances may well make this concert (we should really call it that), if not the best, then certainly among the best Sondheim reviews — and over the decades, there have been many.

There’s nothing like being at the theater, seeing performances like this life, but — whether out of our emotional need or the necessity of the crisis — as Sondheim writes in “With So Little to Be Sure Of”: “We had a moment, a wonderful moment.”

The Sondheim tribute should still be available On Broadway.com and YouTube. Stay past the credits: Dozens of members of the Broadway community, on multiples of screens, from multiples of locations, separated by the times come together in unison for “I’m Still Here.” Sondheim’s legacy endures, as does the musical theater his work forever informs.

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