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TV Review: “Six by Sondheim”

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Six by Sondheim poster

Six by Sondheim poster

Six by Sondheim is part of HBO’s Fall Documentary Series and takes a look into the life and work of Stephen Sondheim.  The film is directed by Tony Award-winner James Lapine and executive produced by Lapine and Frank Rich.

If you are like me, you have seen a musical on Broadway or DVD and had a song (or three) become stuck in your brain.  Chances are that song you hum on a daily basis was composed by none other than Stephen Sondheim, multiple award winner and theatre legend.  In this intimate look of Sondheim’s life and work of the past 60 years, the film also showcases six of his most famous songs:  “Something’s Coming,” “Opening Doors,” Send in the Clowns,” “I’m Still Here,” “Being Alive” and “Sunday.”

Six on Sondheim reveals how Sondheim met the family of legendary librettist and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, who became the young composer’s mentor and surrogate father.  Hammerstein’s guidance and honest advice started Sondheim on the path to his career in theatre, beginning with his big break writing lyrics for “West Side Story.”  Collaborating with Leonard Bernstein, the men created an opening number for newcomer Larry Kert to give him the confidence he needed to command the stage.  While watching archival footage of Kert performing “Something’s Coming,” I could see how much he loved performing that song on stage and how confident he became as the song progressed.

Audra McDonald sings "Send in the Clowns"

Audra McDonald sings “Send in the Clowns”

The film also took three of Sondheim’s famous songs and “restaged” them, putting a new spin on how each song is performed.  With “Send in the Clowns,” the magnificent Audra McDonald and guitarist Will Swenson used their talents to perform a song I’ve heard many times in a way that sounded remarkably different.  The song “Opening Doors,” a song about three young writers trying to make it, was a wonderful treat performed by Jeremy Jordan, Darren Criss and America Ferrera (accompanied by Sondheim, Jackie Hoffman and Laura Osnes).  The young performers brought an energy and synergy to the performance that not only made me relate to their ambitions, but also marvel at how they could keep everything straight.  Finally, the song “I’m Still Here,” performed by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, was a cool, edgy rendition of the song, and directed by Todd Haynes.

Jarvis Cocker sings "I'm Still Here"

Jarvis Cocker sings “I’m Still Here”

If you plan on watching Six by Sondheim, and you should, think about what you want to do in your life when you watch.  Listen to everything Sondheim says about his childhood, his relationship with his parents, and the struggles and triumphs that came his way.  But most of all, look at his determination and drive, watch how he never gave up on his goals and dreams.  And when you’re done watching, take what you have seen and heard and figure out how you can use that ambition to get what you want and to never stop until you do.

Six on Sondheim is currently airing on HBO, HBO2, HBO On Demand and HBO GO.

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About Writergirl2009

Writergirl2009 is a Paralegal by day, but wishes to release herself from the tedium of her daily life to write full-time. She loves writing about films, televisions shows, books, music or people on the New York subway, where she currently lives (in New York, not on the subway).