Sublime Sondheim

by John Platt
A A
Joan Marcus

It’s the season of Marsalis this fall. Wynton handpicked the picked the Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars who are the house band for the thrilling Broadway production After Midnight. And it’s always the season of Stephen Sondheim, so it was bit of genius to have Wynton and others do arrangements of Sondheim songs for A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair, an Encores! special event co-presented by City Center and JALC, which, alas, only runs until Sunday night at City Center.

Wynton serves as the music director and trumpet player for A Bed and a Chair, but don’t expect solos from him. He’s just part of the onstage JALC Orchestra, there to back the singers and dancers performing Sondheim songs. There are two couples – a younger one played by the talented young French-born jazz singer Cyrille Aimee and Jeremy Jordan from the cast of TV’s Smash, and an older one played the go-to Sondheim leading lady (and “Broadway Baby”) Bernadette Peters and Norm Lewis, who starred in the recent Porgy & Bess revival and was part of the of the Sondheim on Sondheim revue. They all do justice to the material.

Each of the singers has a dancing alter ego, and they’re all terrific. The songs for the most part aren’t Sondheim hits, but tunes that express the uncertainty of love, a familiar Sondheim theme. A few, like “A Million People,” are set in New York, but New York permeates the evening in vibrant projections at the back of the stage. The only scenery is a chair and a double bed where some tasteful coupling takes place. Kudos to the director John Doyle (who brilliantly reimagined Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and Company) and choreographer Parker Esse.

Bernadette claims Company’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Elaine Stritch in a showstopper that’s done as drunken mashup with “Agony” from Into the Woods. You expect that to be the finale, but it’s followed by the very moving “Loving You” from Passion and a pas de deux to “Send In the Clowns.” The show ends on a wistful, bittersweet note, which is really the essence of Sondheim.

I’ve always been a passionate Sondheim fan, so when it turned out that I was sitting right across the aisle from him on opening night, that was the ultimate New York moment. It was fascinating to watch him watching the performances of his songs, and he looked like he was really enjoying himself. How could he not? It was a delicious treat and a classy production worthy of the man.

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