Take Me to the World: A Star-studded Benefit for ASTEP

We're Still Here
Members of the Broadway Community – “I’m Still Here” (Follies). Photo: Broadway.com

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, STEVE! A Star-studded Benefit for ASTEP

Take Me to the World Streatming Event to Celebrate Stephen Sondheim

by TAG

This past Sunday evening, in the midst of our newly accepted global sequestering, streaming audiences were offered a glimpse into the mind of a musical theatre genius, arguably THE musical theatre genius…Mr. Stephen Sondheim. Take Me to the World, the socially distanced event coordinated in honor of his 90th birthday (actually occurring on March 22), was also a benefit for Artists Striving to End Poverty (www.astep.org). This organization, founded by Mary- Mitchell Campbell (musical director for the evening’s performance) and students from Julliard, aims to use visual and performing art to transform the lives of the youth of our world. As many of us have come to learn during this “new normal,” the visual and performing arts provide a necessary framework for many of us to cope with stress, fear, and insecurities. ASTEP’s mission statement is to connect “performing and visual artists with youth from underserved communities in the U.S. and around the world to awaken their imaginations, foster critical thinking, and help them break the cycle of poverty.” (ASTEP website) Before continuing to read this review, I encourage every reader to visit their website to learn more about this phenomenal organization and consider donating to the noble work they are attempting to accomplish. Their model is unique and individualized, serving “youth affected by immigration status, homelessness, gun-violence, incarceration, the justice system, HIV/AIDS, systemic poverty, and the caste system.” (ASTEP website) I know that as soon as I am employed and able, I will be supporting them.

Bernadette Peters
Bernadette Peters – “No One is Alone” (Into The Woods). Photo: Broadway.com

I can’t tell you the first time I heard a Stephen Sondheim song, but I do recollect knowing how amazing he was, even before I was overly familiar with his body of work. The summer after my sophomore year in high school (when I had decided that I wanted to be a musical theatre performer when I grew up), we were on our annual family vacation to Panama City, FL where my Momma grew up. While shopping at the mall one day, I remember seeing the double cassette tape album entitled Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall and almost peeing my pants because I was so excited to buy it. I listened to nothing else on my walkman for MONTHS, until I could quote the entire album word-for-word with perfect (?) inflection. Thus began my obsession with Mr. Sondheim, so when I saw the announcement for his 90th birthday concert produced and hosted by Raúl Esparza (LOVE!), I knew that I couldn’t miss this live streaming event. Now…ON TO THE SHOW!

Brian Stokes Mitchell
Brian Stokes Mitchell – “The Flag Song“ (Assassins). Photo: Broadway.com

The event was live-streamed on broadway.com and their YouTube channel but was plagued with technical difficulties, delaying the start while all of us eagerly anticipated the festivities to begin at 8 PM EDT. Following a NUMBER of false starts (I personally remember 4…but who knows?), the event finally got underway around 9:10 pm. Overall, the evening included a total of 45 spoken and musical tributes to the American musical theatre giant who has been writing for Broadway musicals since West Side Story which premiered in 1957. For those not quick with math (like me), that’s SIXTY-THREE YEARS! While waiting for the original stream to begin, there were over 100,000 people waiting to watch, but the recording currently has close to a million views!

The evening began with fellow musical theatre composer Stephen Schwartz at the piano playing “Prologue” from Follies followed by a virtual orchestra of Broadway musicians playing “Overture” from Merrily We Roll Along. From there the evening continued for almost 2 1/2 hours with recorded tributes from Broadway and Hollywood stars using material and locations of their choice to salute the evening’s inspirations, Stephen Sondheim and ASTEP. This included material from Anyone Can Whistle, Into the Woods, Saturday Night, Dick Tracy, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Company, Sunday in the Park with George, A Little Night Music, Follies, Passion, Evening Primrose, Assassins, The Mad Show, and Pacific Overtures. It was a dazzling, star-studded, musical theatre lover’s dream made all the more interesting by learning a bit about what Mr. Sondheim means to each performer and seeing how they chose
to present his work. From a cappella moments to those using subtle set design and costuming, the night was a unique look into the minds and lives of these individuals, many of whom I have been hearing perform this work since the first time I played that Carnegie Hall concert.

Donna Murphy
Donna Murphy – “Send in the Clowns” (A Little Night Music). Photo: Broadway.com

Highlights of the evening for this reviewer included:
• Judy Kuhn’s heartbreaking and self-described “one-act musical in a song” rendition of “What Can You Lose” (Dick Tracy)
• Katrina Lenk accompanying herself on guitar for “Johanna” (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
• Melissa Errico’s take on “Children & Art” (Sunday in the Park with George) that I had the overwhelming pleasure of seeing her perform live at the Kennedy Center back in 2002
• Randy Rainbow putting his usual modern political spin on “By the Sea” (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
• Maria Friedman singing “Broadway Baby” (Follies) following the retelling of her first time performing the number as a replacement for Elaine Stritch
• Laura Benanti giving us “I Remember” (Evening Primrose) from her perfectly resonant
bathroom

Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone – “Anyone Can Whistle” (Anyone Can Whistle) Photo: Broadway.com

• Chip Zein’s solo version of “No More” (Into the Woods) including his iconic green felt hat and following a moving statement about the giants that we face
• Brian Stokes Mitchell (from his home recording studio?) with “The Flag Song” (cut from
Assassins)
• Linda Lavin’s revival take on the hilarious “The Boy From…” (The Mad Show)
• Alexander Geminiani utilizing multiple voices and office chair choreography for “Buddy’s Blues” (Follies)
• Donna Murphy delivering a master class in facial expression acting during “Send in the
Clowns” (A Little Night Music)
• Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, and Audra McDonald giving us a hilariously boozy “Ladies Who Lunch” (Company)


In addition to the intros to many of the performed numbers, several stars gave spoken tributes to ASTEP and Mr. Sondheim’s talent, drive, and genius including Victor Garber, Iain Armitage, Mary-Mitchell Campbell with an ASTEP youth from India named Priyanka, Steven Spielberg, Lonny Price, John Weidman, Jason Alexander, and Nathan Lane. The highlight of these came from the always eloquent and amazingly talented Joanna Gleason. Her moment reminded me of the beautiful speech she gave when accepting her Tony Award for her performance as The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods (you should watch it (again)

Take Me to the World ended with an incomparable trio of tributes starting with Patti LuPone standing in front of a bookcase to give us a beautifully simple “Anyone Can Whistle” (Anyone Can Whistle) followed by Bernadette Peters delivering a timely a cappella version of “No One Is Alone” (Into the Woods) while seated on the floor in her home. The conclusion came from host Raúl Esparza waxing poetic on the glory of working with the genius who is Sondheim, a creator who never believes that his work is ever truly finished so each production is a chance for growth. I don’t believe truer words were ever spoken.

Raul Esparza
Raúl Esparza – “Take Me To The World” (Evening Primrose). Photo: Broadway.com

The evening was directed by Paul Wontorek and scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Company opening on Broadway (April 26, 1970). It also included musical tributes from Iain Armitage, Annaleigh Ashford, Michael Cerveris, Beanie Feldstein, Sutton Foster, Josh Groban, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ann Harada, Neil Patrick Harris, Austin Ku, Kelvin Moon Loh, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kelli O’Hara, Mandy Patinkin, Ben Platt, Lea Salonga, Thom Sesma, Elizabeth Stanley, Aaron Tveit, and Brandon Uranowitz. Listening to all these musical tributes, I was reminded of the lesson that Maria Friedman recounted from that first performance of “Broadway Baby” as a last-minute replacement for Elaine Stritch. When tackling the challenge of a piece from a composer as magnificent as Stephen Sondheim, you will always succeed if you just sit in the work and let the lyric tell the story. Take Me to the World is a fitting tribute to a man who has indelibly altered the fabric of musical theatre in the most beautiful, touching, and haunting way possible.

Maria Friedman
Maria Friedman – “Broadway Baby” (Follies). Photo: Broadway.com

 

“TAKE ME TO THE WORLD:

A SONDHEIM 90TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION”

CONCERT STILL AVAILABLE FOR VIEWING

ON BROADWAY.COM AND YOUTUBE

32 PERFORMANCES INCLUDING MANY ARTISTS WHO HAVE DELIVERED ICONIC TURNS IN SONDHEIM’S SHOWS INCLUDING

IAIN ARMITAGE, ANNALEIGH ASHFORD, CHRISTINE BARANSKI, LAURA BENANTI, MICHAEL CERVERIS, KRISTIN CHENOWETH, MELISSA ERRICO, BEANIE FELDSTEIN, SUTTON FOSTER, JOSH GROBAN, JAKE GYLLENHAAL, ANN HARADA, NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, JUDY KUHN, LINDA LAVIN, KATRINA LENK, PATTI LUPONE, MARIA FRIEDMAN, AUSTIN KU, KELVIN MOON LOH, AUDRA MCDONALD, LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL, DONNA MURPHY, KELLI O’HARA, MANDY PATINKIN, BERNADETTE PETERS, BEN PLATT, RANDY RAINBOW, LEA SALONGA, STEPHEN SCHWARTZ, THOM SESMA, ELIZABETH STANLEY, MERYL STREEP, AARON TVEIT, BRANDON URANOWITZ, AND CHIP ZIEN

WITH SPECIAL APPEARANCES BY VICTOR GARBER, JOANNA GLEASON, NATHAN LANE, AND STEVEN SPIELBERG

PRODUCED AND HOSTED BY RAÚL ESPARZA

WITH MUSIC DIRECTION BY MARY-MITCHELL CAMPBELL

Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris with Gideon Burtka-Harris and Harper Burtka-Harris – “The Witch’s Rap” (Into The Woods). Photo: Broadway.com

The show’s program featured:

Stephen Schwartz – “Prologue” (Follies)

Broadway Musicians – “Overture”

Sutton Foster with Emily Griffin – “ There Won’t Be Trumpets” (Anyone Can Whistle)

Neil Patrick Harris with Gideon Burtka-Harris and Harper Burtka-Harris – “The Witch’s Rap” (Into The Woods)

Kelli O’Hara – “What More Do I Need” (Saturday Night)

Judy Kuhn – “What Can You Lose” (Dick Tracy)

Victor Garber – Tribute to Sondheim

Katrina Lenk – “Johanna” (Sweeney Todd)

Aaron Tveit – “Marry Me A Little” (Company)

Iain Armitage – Plea to donate to ASTEP

Beanie Feldstein-Ben Platt2
Beanie Feldstein & Ben Platt – “It Takes Two” (Into The Woods). Photo: Broadway.com

Beanie Feldstein & Ben Platt – “It Takes Two” (Into The Woods)

Brandon Uranowitz – “With So Little to Be Sure Of” (Anyone Can Whistle)

Mary-Mitchell Campbell & Priyanka Patil – Plea to donate to ASTEP

Melissa Errico – “Children and Art” (Sunday in the Park with George)

Randy Rainbow – “By The Sea” (Sweeney Todd)

Elizabeth Stanley – “The Miller’s Son” (A Little Night Music)

Mandy Patinkin – “Lesson #8” (Sunday in the Park with George)

Steven Spielberg – Tribute to Sondheim

Maria Friedman – “Broadway Baby” (Follies)

Lin-Manuel Miranda – “Giants in the Sky” (Into The Woods)

Randy Rainbow
Randy Rainbow – “By The Sea” (Sweeney Todd). Photo: Broadway.com

Lonny Price – Tribute to Sondheim

Lea Salonga – “Loving You” (Passion)

Laura Benanti – “I Remember” (Evening Primrose)

Raúl Esparza – Plea to donate to ASTEP

Chip Zien – “No More” (Into The Woods)

Joanna Gleason – Tribute to Sondheim

Josh Groban – “Children Will Listen” (Into the Woods) / “Not While I’m Around” (Sweeney Todd)

John Weidman – Tribute to Sondheim

Brian Stokes Mitchell – “The Flag Song“ (Assassins)

Michael Cerveris – “Finishing The Hat” (Sunday in the Park with George)

Jason Alexander – Tribute to Sondheim

Linda Lavin – “The Boy From…” (The Mad Show)

Elizabeth Stanley – Plea to donate to ASTEP

Alexander Gemignani – “Buddy’s Blues” (Follies)

Ann Harada, Austin Ku, Kelvin Moon Loh, and Thom Sesma – “Someone in a Tree” (Pacific Overtures)

Jake Gyllenhaal-Annaleigh Ashford
Annaleigh Ashford & Jake Gyllenhaal – “Move On” (Sunday in the Park with George). Photo: Broadway.com

Nathan Lane – Tribute to Sondheim

Lin-Manuel Miranda – Plea to donate to ASTEP

Raúl Esparza – “Take Me To The World” (Evening Primrose)

Donna Murphy – “Send in the Clowns” (A Little Night Music)

Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald, & Meryl Streep – “The Ladies Who Lunch” (Company)

Annaleigh Ashford & Jake Gyllenhaal – “Move On” (Sunday in the Park with George)

Patti LuPone – “Anyone Can Whistle” (Anyone Can Whistle)

Bernadette Peters – “No One is Alone” (Into The Woods)

Members of the Broadway Community – “I’m Still Here” (Follies)

Audra McDonald-Meryl Streep-Christine Baranski
Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald, & Meryl Streep – “The Ladies Who Lunch” (Company). Photo: Broadway.com

 

ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty) is an organization conceived by Broadway Musical Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Juilliard students to transform the lives of youth using the most powerful tool they had: their art. Today, ASTEP connects performing and visual artists with youth from underserved communities in the U.S. and around the world to awaken their imaginations, foster critical thinking, and help them break the cycle of poverty.

# # # #

www.astep.org

www.broadway.com      

We're Still Here

 

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