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Topic: Backstage Sondheim etc. etc review

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AuthorTopic:   Backstage Sondheim etc. etc review
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posted: 10/13/2005 at 10:33:57 PM ET
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Back Stage, Sept 29, 2005 v46 i39 p39(1)

Eternal opposites: Sondheim and Lloyd Webber. David A. Rosenberg

Sondheim gets the full symphonic treatment in Bernadette Peters' Sondheim, Etc., Etc., recorded live at Carnegie Hall, Dec. 9, 1996, in a benefit for Gay Men's Health Crisis. The problem is, Sondheim isn't much in evidence in this misleadingly titled collection.

After a full-bodied overture and one of those "Ladies and gentlemen" announcements, the diva appears, opening not with Sondheim but a combo of "We're in the Money," sung in both English and pig Latin, and "Pennies From Heaven." Peters introduces the rest of the concert with a breathless "I'm here at Carnegie Hall. I can't believe it."

Her frequent comments help create an immediacy for home listeners. Her distinctive singing style makes her version of the 1916 "If You Were the Only Boy" practically ethereal. When she tackles "Unexpected Song" from "Song & Dance," she weds sentiment with a polished voice, a combination of innocence and power that is the perfect vehicle for Don Black and Andrew Lloyd Webber's melding of romanticism and bombast.

The album is heartfelt, with one of its highlights being Peter Allen's "I Never Thought I'd Break." After a while, you detect a theme: the suggestion of inexplicable loss and impossible attachment. Take, in particular, a pair of Sondheim numbers: "With So Little to Be Sure Of" from "Anyone Can Whistle" ("We had a moment/A marvelous moment"), which leads without a break into "Children Will Listen" from "Into the Woods" ("Careful the wish you make/Wishes are children"). It's a powerful twosome, the CD's best moments.

But the overall impact is both inconsistent and shad owed by the cures. Arranged to a fare-thee-well by Marvin Laird, Jonathan Tunick, Peter Matz, Billy Byers, Dan Sebesky, Michael Starobin, and Philip J. Lang, this is a pleasant album, though not more than that.


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