Six By Sondheim
What are the three musicals where Sondheim rhymes "boring" with "ignoring"? These are the questions my friends and I ask each other. But you don’t need to have a Sondheim obsession to be enraptured by HBO Documentaries Films’ "Six by Sondeim" (premieres Monday, Dec. 9 at 9 pm.)
This fascinating retrospective is directed by none other than Stephen Sondheim’s longtime collaborator James Lapine (Pulitzer Prize winning "Sunday in the Park with George," "Into the Woods," and Tony Award winning "Passion").
Sondheim says he was ready to quit the theatre after the critical reception to "Merrily We Roll Along." He wanted to make movies, or write mystery novels or create video games -- anything but musicals. "I wanted to find something to satisfy myself that [did] not involve Broadway and dealing with all those people who hate me and hate Hal (Prince, major collaborator throughout the 1970s)." It was the avant-garde theatre of Lapine and the show "Sunday in the Park with George" that brought Sondheim back to the Great White Way.
The documentary examines Sondheim’s life and career by looking at six of his songs. For instance, the sequence covering Sondheim’s childhood and early career is mark by the performance of "Something’s Coming" from "West Side Story" interpreted by Larry Kert (the first man to play Tony on Broadway) in a recording of his performance for television in the 1950s.
"Opening Doors" from "Merrily We Roll Along" is Sondheim’s only autobiographical song. The sequence surrounding this song covers the early part of Sondheim’s career as both a composer and lyricist. The staging of this musical number is completely filmic and produced specifically for this documentary. (In addition to performances from Darren Criss of "Glee" and America Ferrara of "Ugly Betty," you can expect a cameo from Sondheim himself, singing in this number.)
What makes this documentary unique is that it’s made by people who know Sondheim. Legendary critic for The New York Times, Frank Rich, executive produced the show. (According to author Ted Chapin in the book "Everything Was Possible - The Birth of the Musical ’Follies,’" Rich was "the first person to predict the legendary status ["Follies"] eventually would achieve".)