By Elizabeth Gracen:
Hot summer night.
The Hollywood Bowl.
Did I mention Patti LuPone?
I’m a true-blue fangirl of the Hollywood Bowl. I don’t go there often, but when I do, it never fails to satisfy my “live music under the stars” sweet tooth. If one of your besties “friends” you their box seats, well, there is no denying the sated sensation of an evening well spent in Tinseltown. Such was the case one sultry summer night in late July when I attended Everybody Rise! A Sondheim Celebration.
My friends accuse me, rightly so, of a shallow love for musical theatre. I enjoy most of the classics because I’m a lover of great songs, and the oldies are loaded with them. A lot of current musicals simply don’t check that box for me—except of course for Hamilton; it was on a song loop in my car for over a year when my kid was obsessed with it.
The one big exception to this wishy-washy appreciation of musical theater is anything written and composed by Stephen Sondheim. His extensive, eclectic oeuvre remains unmatched, the complex intricacy of his words and music have been awarded with eight Tonys, eight Grammys, an Oscar, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I first fell under Sondheim’s spell when a local PBS station televised a production of Sunday in Park with George, starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, that became the soundtrack to my brief stint as an Art Major in Arkansas. I played that VHS recording over and over as I worked on homework assignments—Seurat’s pointillism set to the staccato rhythm of “Finishing the Hat” urging me on. I was inspired and encouraged by Sondheim’s masterpiece. It made me feel like an artist.
Cut to July 30, 2023, 7 p.m., Hollywood Bowl. iPhones are up to record and share the special moments on socials and YouTube. The LA Philharmonic is ready as the "Overture" and "Night Waltz" from A Little Night Music brings the cast—Sutton Foster, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Patti LuPone, Skylar Astin, Sierra Boggess, and Norm Lewis—to the stage, their commanding presence and vocal prowess our assurance that we were in good hands, the very best. We will follow them anywhere tonight as twenty-four of Sondheim’s best songs from Into the Woods, Company, Sunday in the Park with George, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Follies, Merrily We Roll Along, Anyone Can Whistle, Saturday Night, and Assassins serve as our musical playground.
The highlights are almost too numerous to list:
Brian Stokes Mitchell's hilarious, multi-charactered performance of “Getting Married Today” from Company was one of the night’s biggest crowdpleasers and our first standing ovation.
Another song from Company—"Another Hundred People," with an electric performance by the effervescent Sutton Foster.
Patti LuPone and Stokes Mitchell's rendition of “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd.
The gorgeous rendition of “Finishing the Hat” by Skylar Astin from Sunday in the Park with George.
A super-ballad combo from Sutton Foster and Sierra Boggess—"Losing My Mind" (Follies) & "Not a Day Goes By" (Merrily We Roll Along).
We're back again for another deathly swipe from Sweeney Todd—“Pretty Women,” gamely performed by Brian Stokes Mitchell and Norm Lewis.
These bright stars of Broadway did not disappoint. At the top their form, their charisma, technical ability, and deep love for the material evenly matched to Sondheim’s puzzled precision of lyrics and music. But no star shone brighter than the evening’s headlining diva, Patti LuPone.
We waited for the moments we knew must come:
“Being Alive” from Company.
And finally, what we’d all been waiting for—“The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company.
By the time the full cast took the stage for a moving finale of “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George, we knew it was over, but we didn’t want it to end.
Sondheim never fails to lift us with precisely constructed worlds where notes and words dance together, leaving us exhilarated, inspired, and encouraged to find the art in our lives.
The finale comes to an end, the cast recites the final words of Sunday in the Park With George: