Renowned as one of the greatest musical theatre composers and lyricists to walk the Earth, American legend Stephen Sondheim (Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, Gypsy) enters his tenth decade. Although his 90th birthday was on March 22, Broadway.com presented a virtual celebration of his greatest works this past Sunday, titled Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration. Hosted by actor Raul Esparza, the digital concert special raised funds for nonprofit organization Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP) through over two hours of performances from countless Broadway legends.
Defined by actor Nathan Lane as a “musical tribute to the unsung hero,” Take Me to the World entertained home viewers in a fresh, no-filter fashion while honoring Sondheim’s genius. From Tony-winning classics sung through AirPods and pitch-perfect toasts to interwoven personal anecdotes and Zoom collaborations, the star-studded roster effortlessly channeled their iconic roles without stage makeup or bedazzled costumes. Forgoing their in-person standing ovations and post-show autograph signings, the talented actors and actresses individually expressed their love for Sondheim from the corners of their living rooms.
For those wondering, “why should I watch another streamed slew of performances by famous people,” you’re in for an exceptional treat. Unlike many of today’s popular musicians constantly posting overkill videos of acoustic songs, these Broadway veterans tastefully shared Sondheim’s legacy through their warmth and subsurface connection.
Functioning as one of the many highlights of the special, musical divas Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, and Audra McDonald performed COMPANY‘s “The Ladies Who Lunch” over a Zoom call. Dressed in bathrobes with a glass of wine, shaken martini, and straight bourbon in their hands, the power trio unapologetically facilitated a quarantine happy hour over the jazzy tune. Showcasing nonchalant disposition in the form of a birthday toast, the film and theatre moguls conveyed their authentic homebound selves, humorously disregarding the need to glam-up for the media.
Bringing a fun, light hearted rendition of the Pacific Overtures‘ “Someone in a Tree” to the online celebration, vocalists Ann Harada, Austin Ku, Kelvin Moon Loh, and Thom Sesma nailed their quartet. Despite the social distancing circumstances, the foursome displayed great chemistry, creating a call-and-response flow from screen to screen as if they conversed in person. Fearlessly representing the strong Asian-American community amidst nationwide racism, they welcomed viewers into their stripped-down storytelling with imaginative realism and vivacious optimism, indisputably highlighting the importance of everyone’s narrative.
Although it seemed tempting to turn off the smart TV following the aforementioned performances, actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford turned back time with their Sunday in the Park with George “Move On” duet. Starring alongside one another in the musical’s 2017 revival, Jake and Annaleigh nostalgically resurfaced their magical on-stage romance. Filled with emotional vibrato and captivating gazes, their execution did the iconic piece justice.
The list of tear-jerking musical theatre aficionado performance highlights goes on, with Sutton Foster, Patti LuPone, Josh Groban, Bernadette Peters, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Laura Benanti, Ben Platt, Beanie Feldstein, and others also ‘bringing the house down’ for Stephen Sondheim. Closing the digital concert with the Follies‘ “I’m Still Here,” a diverse array of today’s Broadway-leading actors and actresses buoyantly joined forces for the birthday tribute, honoring Sondheim as the patriarch of their musical family. Despite Broadway’s closures this spring, the undeniably talented community continuously manages to spread hope through song. Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire ceaselessly brings people together in the darkest of times, and his eternal legacy proves that “no one is alone.” Check out the full-length special above.