Stephen Sondheim Documentary "Six by Sondheim" Debuts on HBO
Six by Sondheim, a new documentary examining the life and music of composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim, premieres on HBO tonight, December 9, at 9 PM. Directed by frequent Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, Six by Sondheim is a personal profile of the artist presented through the creation and performance of six of his iconic songs. Told primarily in Sondheim’s own words, the documentary includes interviews with the composer, rarely seen archival material spanning more than half a century (including newly discovered footage of Ethel Merman performing in Gypsy), and re-stagings of three songs produced especially for the film. NPR's Fresh Air calls the documentary "delightful." The Boston Globe's Sarah Rodman calls it "stunning," a "must-see for musical theatre lovers." Watch the trailer here:
For one of the re-stagings in Six by Sondheim, Audra McDonald performs Sondheim's biggest hit song, "Send in the Clowns," from A Little Night Music. For the documentary, McDonald performs the song accompanied only by her husband, actor Will Swenson, on guitar, in a new segment directed by Autumn de Wilde, who happens to have photographed the singer for her latest Nonesuch release, Go Back Home. (On that album, released earlier this year, McDonald performs "The Glamorous Life," also from A Little Night Music.)
Also included among the re-stagings are Jarvis Cocker's take on “I’m Still Here” from Follies, in a new segment directed by Todd Haynes, and performances by Darren Criss (Glee), Jeremy Jordan (Newsies), and America Ferrera (Ugly Betty). These are interspersed with archival performances of Sondheim standards by stars like Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Dean Jones, Yvonne de Carlo, and Larry Kert. Blending theatrical and rare interview footage with Sondheim’s candid anecdotes, the film features the afrementioned songs plus songs "Something's Coming" (West Side Story), "Opening Doors" (Merrily We Roll Along), "Being Alive" (Company), and "Sunday" (Sunday in the Park with George).
The documentary reveals how art and life have been intertwined for Sondheim since childhood, when his mother’s friendship with the family of the legendary librettist and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II would introduce the young Sondheim to a surrogate father and artistic mentor, ultimately starting him on the path to a career in the theater.
Stephen Sondheim has written music and lyrics for more than 20 shows. He won a Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Sunday in the Park with George in 1985, and has received multiple Tony Awards, including a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre in 2008. In 1990, he won an Oscar for a song he wrote for Dick Tracy. Nonesuch Records has released a number of cast recordings of Stephen Sondheim's work, including his latest, Road Show, and, most recently, the first Broadway revival of A Little Night Music.
Director James Lapine has collaborated with Stephen Sondheim on several acclaimed shows, writing the book for and directing Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Passion, and Sondheim on Sondheim. He has received three Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. Lapine executive produces Six by Sondheim along with New York magazine’s Frank Rich, a former chief theatre critic for the New York Times.