Sondheim/Marsalis Revue: A Mixed Bag

Last year, City Center in midtown Manhattan gave us the delightful, high-energy evening “Cotton Club Parade,” which has been re-tooled and moved to Broadway under the title “After Midnight.” This year, City Center gave us a just-concluded run of “A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair,” a revue devoted to the music of Stephen Sondheim. Like the previous offering, this one featured The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by Wynton Marsalis. But the production, while worthwhile, was more of a mixed bag than the Cotton Club affair. The chief pleasure was hearing Sondheim’s music arranged for big band. After decades of listening to this repertoire, I found myself hearing new things again and again. The downside: the horn-heavy arrangements frequently drowned out the four singing cast members: Cyrille Aimee, Jeremy Jordan, Norm Lewis, and Bernadette Peters. All these performers had their moments: Aimee has a true jazz voice, Lewis brings marvelous bearing to his work, and Jordan has an excellent, Michael Buble type of crooning intrument, which sometimes, alas, was much too romantic to convey the ambivalent lyrics he was doing — even though it enacted the scenarios of director John Doyle. Peters was the audience favorite. The highlight of the show was the blending of her in “Ladies Who Lunch” with the men in “Agony” from “Into the Woods.” I wish there had been more such ingenious medleys, just as I wish there hadn’t been the non-stop rear projections of New York sights. Do we really need to see the Empire State Building while listening to the lyric “There are giants in the sky”?

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