Post image for Concert Review: A BROADWAY BIRTHDAY: SONDHEIM, LLOYD WEBBER AND FRIENDS! (Segerstrom Concert Hall)

by Michael M. Landman-Karny on April 1, 2024

in Concerts / Events,Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


In the luminous world of musical theater, two names stand as colossi, casting long shadows across Broadway and the global stage. Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, though walking parallel paths, have carved their legacies with distinct artistic chisels, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of audiences and the annals of theater history. At Segerstrom Concert Hall on March 28th, the birthday which both Webber and Sondheim share, New York cabaret singer-producer Scott Coulter put together a show incorporating songs by the two with a line up of Broadway performers and a 10-person band led by John Boswell on piano.

Both composers, celebrated for their transformative contributions, share the achievement of broadening the horizons of musical theater. They have ventured through a kaleidoscope of musical styles, incorporating everything from classical to jazz to narrate their complex stories. Their works, lauded for challenging audiences, delve into the depths of human emotion and intellect, featuring characters as multifaceted as life itself.

Yet, it is in their differences that the essence of their genius truly shines. Sondheim, a master of lyrical sophistication and musical complexity, crafts works that demand a discerning ear and a keen eye for the subtleties of human psychology. His musicals, such as the brooding Sweeney Todd and the introspective Sunday in the Park with George, are intricate tapestries of sound and narrative, exploring the darker corners of the human experience.

Lloyd Webber, on the other hand, is the herald of the musical spectacular, with a knack for creating melodies that linger long after the curtain falls. His productions, including the haunting The Phantom of the Opera, the revolutionary Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita are monuments to the power of music to evoke emotion and captivate the imagination. Lloyd Webber’s works are a testament to the universal language of melody, bridging cultures and drawing countless newcomers into the theater’s embrace.

While Sondheim’s artistry is a beacon for the evolution of musical theater as an art form, Lloyd Webber’s legacy is marked by his role in its commercial resurgence and global expansion. Each, in their own right, has redefined the boundaries of musical storytelling, offering audiences new ways to see, hear, and feel the world.

Despite over-amplification and a mushy sound design, the program didn’t fail to impress. TV and stage heartthrob Matthew Morrison did a killer medley from West Side Story as well as a seductive “Music of the Night” from Phantom. Broadway vet Liz Callaway sang “I Remember/Take Me to the World” from Evening Primrose and “Broadway Baby” from Follies. Alex Joseph Grayson sang a moving “Giants in the Sky” from Into the Woods and then a roof-rattling version of “Heaven on Their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar. Kerry O’Malley sang a powerful “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita but also an unfortunately underpowered “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

Aaron Lazar, who has been living with ALS for the last 3 years, sang 3 powerful songs that were heavy with meaning: “The Impossible Dream” (from Man of La Mancha by Mitch Leigh & Dale Wasserman, not Sondheim or Webber) and “Being Alive” from Sondheim’s Company. He talked about his battle with his ALS and also pointed out his two teenage boys in the audience.

As the evening’s highlight, 76-year-old Betty Buckley did a set of 5 songs with her band, Christian Jacob (piano), Trey Henry (bass), and Ray Brinker (drums). Her significant vocal decline and pitch problems were saved by her choice of songs: “Not A Day Goes By”, “Memory”, “Send in the Clowns”, “No One Is Alone” — all songs that in one way or another refer to younger, happier days. When she started croaking “As If We’ve Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard it was loaded with meaning. It’s a song sung by an aging washed-up silent movie actress who wrongly believes that she is returning to the movie industry.

There were unfortunately no duets and trios in this concert. The cast did sing the moving “Somewhere” from West Side Story at the end of the evening, unfortunately encouraging the audience to join in.

Witnessing a cherished young actor speaking of his grave illness and observing a seasoned Broadway icon grappling with the challenge of reaching every note did not align with the lighthearted evening of entertainment anticipated by this critic. Similar to experiencing my favored Sondheim production, Follies, the night was bittersweet, prompting me to face the reality of my own mortality.

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